Nationwide hearing screening programmes can be prohibitively expensive. Equipment is expensive and resources, such as trained audiologists, scarce. Getting these services to rural locations is a logistical nightmare. hearX Group is rethinking the approach. Using off-the-shelf smartphones and headsets, it dramatically reduces the cost and simultaneously makes the process more efficient. Its success could transform the lives of thousands of children across South Africa.
There are 3.2 million schoolchildren in South Africa, and the government has pledged to provide annual hearing tests for those in Grades one, four and six. With hearing loss affecting one in five of the world’s population, identifying and addressing problems early can have a significant impact on the individual and education standards.
South Africa has merely 400 trained audiologists and a fully trained audiologist requires four years of formal training. What makes logistics increasingly complex is the size of South Africa, with thousands of schools in remote, rural villages.
The solution relies on smartphone technology. hearX Group is a South African tech start-up, commercialised from the University of Pretoria. The premise is simple: use an off-the-shelf smartphone and calibrated headphones, along with proprietary software, to create a medical device that is mobile enough, cheap enough and simple enough to be used by an unskilled tester, in any location.
To work, hearX needed a connectivity solution throughout South Africa, ideally with the option to support international roll-out.
The solution sees hearX source Samsung (Android) smartphones through Vodacom, all equipped with Vodacom SIMs. Data for each device is managed through the Vodacom Managed IoT Connectivity Platform. This means that hearX has a single commercial arrangement for hardware and connectivity, simplifying management and delivering cost advantages.
It also provides the scale needed to support rapid growth, and, for customers, the confidence that hearX Group has the backing of an industry heavyweight.
The solution is unique and directly addresses the recognised pain points. Hearing tests can be conducted in 60 seconds, the equipment and connectivity costs 50-70% less than traditional options, and funders have transparency over test costs.
The hearX solution also provides a platform on which to add new healthcare screening services. hearX has teamed up with a UK application developer, Peek Acuity, to add vision testing. It is also working towards adding an application to its mHealth platform to test lung functionality. The software will be added to the hearX device, with data managed through the Vodacom Managed IoT Connectivity Platform.
The immediate focus is to establish hearX as the primary test method for audiology in South Africa, but the ultimate goal is to go bigger. The company will open offices in Singapore, the United States and the Netherlands in 2018 to serve regional markets. Adding lung function testing will also broaden the company’s scope to serve alternative segments.
• Vodacom Managed IoT Connectivity Platform simplifies management of data and connectivity across thousands of devices
• Establishes single point of contactfor hardware, connectivity and data management, ensuring clarity on cost
• Supports national coverage, with scale to accommodate rapid growth and international expansion
• Provides a platform on which to host and manage new health monitoring applications