Humans Needed More than Ever in the Machine Age

By Brian Taylor
May 29, 2021

Everywhere you look these days, it seems, we are bombarded with talk of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automated bots. Audiology and hearing healthcare are no exception. Hearing testing is becoming automated and driven by machine learning principles—even though many clinicians do not use it yet because of reimbursement issues. Additionally, today’s hearing aids have all sorts of highly complex AI-enabled features, including neural networks that help wearers separate speech sounds (and their own voice) from background noise. In reality, hearing aids have employed AI for several years; it’s just that it is getting more sophisticated and easier for the average person with hearing loss to operate—plus, hearing aid manufacturers are more assertively marketing their AI features to hearing care professionals.

The logical endpoint of all this automation is self-fitting hearing aids. Not necessarily sold over-the-counter (OTC), these self-fitting hearing aids enable wearers to program, adjust, and essentially fit their own devices with little to no help from a licensed professional. Similar to how an audiologist programs and adjusts hearing aids with the manufacturer’s software in the clinic, self-fitting hearing aids take all that complicated software, simplify it and place it on the hearing aid wearer’s smartphone. Self-fitting hearing aids could be appealing to the millions of people worldwide with untreated hearing loss.  But for now, you can relax, self-fitting hearing aids, like OTC devices, don’t exist commercially, yet. But they are coming.

Because many audiologists, who have been convinced through effective marketing and training campaigns over the past 25 years of the digital hearing aid era, believe the most recent advances in signal processing on the newest digital chip will lead to improved patient outcomes and greater acceptance of hearing aids by those who choose not to wear them, they become apoplectic at the notion of self-fitting hearing aids becoming a reality.

My new book tries to quell this reaction.

This book, Relationship-Centered Consultation Skills for Audiologists: Remote and In-Person Care, provides practical guidance, based on scientific principles, on how to be more human in the face of automation, including self-fitting hearing aids, purchased over-the-counter. The book also attempts to outline a clear path on how to deploy remote or virtual appointments in a blended model of care and has the potential to enhance health-related outcomes and improve clinical efficiency. The book is short, not overly academic, and intended to be used in a hands-on way by audiologists who want to complement the technical prowess of incrementally-improving hearing aids and other sorts of automation occurring in the clinic.  

Hearing aids are more effective than ever, and they span a growing range of functionality. By adding this book to your professional library, you can be sure your holistic counseling skills—your ability to add a human face to complex technology—keeps pace.