The utilization rate for cochlear implants was recently estimated at 6% for adults who meet the traditional candidacy criteria of bilateral moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss (Cochlear Implants Int. 2013 Mar; 14(Suppl 1): S4–S12.1, 2; ACI, www.acialliance.org/page/CochlearImplant). At the American Cochlear Implant Alliance (ACI Alliance), our mission is to eliminate barriers to cochlear implantation by sponsoring research, increasing awareness, and advocating for improved access to cochlear implants for patients of all ages.
ACI Alliance recently began a new partnership aimed at addressing low awareness of cochlear implants and their benefits within the hearing aid specialist community. We partnered with the International Hearing Society (IHS), which is a membership association for hearing health care professionals. IHS members are hearing aid dispensers who engage in testing hearing and selecting, fitting, and dispensing hearing aids. ACI Alliance and IHS worked together to create membership and educational opportunities for IHS members who are eager to learn more about when to refer their patients for a cochlear implant evaluation.
The inspiration for this partnership grew out of conversations with the state and national chapters of hearing aid specialists. From those conversations, we learned many hearing aid specialists are unsure of current FDA cochlear implant candidacy, as well as which patients might benefit from a cochlear implant evaluation, and the process of where and how to refer patients for a cochlear implant evaluation (ACI, www.acialliance.org/page/StepstoaCochlearImplant).
As a nonprofit national entity whose members span the clinical and research community, educators, adult recipients, and parents of children with hearing loss, ACI Alliance is uniquely suited to step in and fill the gap to connect hearing aid specialists with cochlear implant centers. Our work with IHS chapters also includes dissemination of information on the benefits of cochlear implants for appropriate candidates over hearing aid alone, as well as the hearing profile of patients who may benefit from a referral for a cochlear implant evaluation. It is critical to improving education and awareness of cochlear implants to all hearing health care providers as the projected number of adults affected with hearing loss is expected to rise significantly over the next few decades, and untreated hearing loss can negatively affect quality of life, communication, and cognition.
Fortunately, familiarity and comfort with virtual presentations have led to increased opportunities for members of the ACI Alliance to present this important information to more audiences through individual state IHS chapters, as well as an IHS-hosted virtual webinar in late April.
The goal of the ACI Alliance partnership with IHS is to increase knowledge about when a hearing aid patient (who is being seen by a hearing aid specialist) should be referred for a cochlear implant evaluation and how a patient can benefit from a cochlear implant over a hearing aid. ACI Alliance can mitigate barriers to CI access by broadening networks of those who are familiar with CI candidacy and outcomes, building new relationships between hearing health care and primary care professionals, and continued education for adults, parents, and family members on the topic of cochlear implants. We hope that partnering with IHS is a step in that direction as comprehensive hearing health care benefits all patients with hearing loss. We are grateful for the partnership with IHS and the progress that has been made so far.
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