A quick online search will confirm that much uncertainty – and misinformation – still abound when it comes to what constitutes a portable versus a mobile audiometer. We chatted to Dr Dirk Koekemoer, eMoyo founder and inventor of the revolutionary Kuduwave portable boothless audiometer, and eMoyo’s chief operations officer Jillian Scotland to gain more insight into this topic.
When it comes to healthcare devices, “portable” and “mobile” are terms that are often confused. This is because they appear to be so close in meaning, when, in reality, they are quite different.
To complicate matters further, with the arrival of the smartphone and mobile technology, in the world of med-tech, the term “mobile audiometry” is also often and rather misleadingly used to refer to hearing healthcare mobile applications (also known as apps).
So what do the terms “portable audiometry” and “mobile audiometry” truly mean, and what are the key differences between these two types of audiometer?
Mobile Audiometry & Portable Audiometry – the ANSI Definitions
To get a definitive answer, let’s take a look at the definitions for “portable” and “mobile” as supplied by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
According to ANSI, “portable” is a term referring to transportable equipment intended to be moved from one location to another while being carried by one or more persons. While the term “mobile” refers to transportable equipment intended to be moved from one location to another while supported by its own wheels or equivalent means.
So, according to ANSI definitions, the lightweight, compact Kuduwave audiometer is most definitely portable, while big, bulky sound booths, crammed with audiometric equipment and moving around independently on wheels, either by a road or rail, would fall under the mobile audiometer category.
Highly Portable, Ergonomic Design
So what are the features of the Kuduwave boothless audiometer that place it so firmly in the portable category, as defined by ANSI standards for audiology?
To begin with, the Kuduwave’s ergonomic design makes it extremely lightweight and space-efficient. It can fit into even a small backpack and be carried around with ease.
This has made the Kuduwave extremely popular with philanthropists and hearing healthcare clinicians who work out in the field. It is also very appealing to employers who find its portability and affordability an immense advantage when it comes to on-site occupational health hearing screening programmes.
Hearing Healthcare Where It’s Needed Most
What are some of the places around the globe that these revolutionary, location-independent audiometers have been used to conduct hearing tests?
“The Kuduwave portable audiometer has been used in hearing conservation and community outreach programmes in Mozambique, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, the list goes on and on,” says Dr Koekemoer.
“The Kuduwave is being used to test children’s hearing in refugee camps in Jordan right now.”
“It seems that this tele-audiology enabled device is proving especially useful to philanthropists on humanitarian outreach missions. Compared with traditional audiometric testing equipment, it is just so portable and affordable. But by far the biggest benefit is that the Kuduwave empowers users to take quality, reliable hearing healthcare to patients who otherwise would not have had access to it.”
Reaching Out to Communities
The Kuduwave portable audiometer is also proving to be an indispensable piece of professional equipment for audiologists who choose to work among their communities rather than operate from a traditional audiology practice at a fixed location.
“It’s really a new business model for these audiologists and speech therapists. Having access to a clinically validated portable diagnostic audiometer that fits inside their carry bag empowers these inspirational professionals to go out and test patients inside their homes, in retirement centres, in ICU units,” says Dr Koekemoer.
“You can travel to just about any place in the world with your Kuduwave; put it in your backpack, get on a scooter or on your bicycle and test patients wherever there is need for your services.”
“Kudupreneurs” Taking Hearing Healthcare Further
“At eMoyo, we call audiologists who go out into communities to test people in their homes Kudupreneurs,” says Scotland. “There’s Tukiso Matlakala, Johannesburg-based audiologist and speech therapist who goes out into various communities in his area almost daily. There is such a demand for his services; he can barely keep up. Tukiso tests patients who otherwise would not have had access to quality hearing healthcare, right there in their homes. He even fits their hearing aids right there.”
With some impressive statistics adding weight to the Kuduwave’s already-impressive credentials (more than three million hearing tests done, and over 1 687 Kuduwave devices sold to date), this revolutionary portable audiometer can be found taking hearing healthcare further around the globe.
“We have an agent in Indonesia,” says Scotland. “This country has more than 17 000 islands. They take their Kuduwaves out to those islands by boat, both government health officials and private clinicians use the Kuduwave to test patients’ hearing on-site during clinic and outreach programmes, as well as in their homes.”
Hearing Healthcare, Anywhere
The Kuduwave is a highly portable, clinically validated screening and diagnostic audiometer with many useful features, but the one advantage it offers both users and patients is access.
A Kuduwave portable audiometer gives clinicians access to test patients’ hearing wherever they may find themselves – there is almost no limit to the places the Kuduwave can go (including 400 km above Earth, aboard NASA’s International Space Station). To patients, the Kuduwave offers access to high-quality hearing healthcare, regardless of their geographical location.
Reducing the Risk of Cross-Contamination in the Time of Covid-19
Superior portability is just one of many benefits offered by this remarkable piece of medical technology. “Testing patients’ hearing with the Kuduwave also eliminates the claustrophobia that often accompanies being tested in a small, cramped sound booth,” says Scotland. “And, in this era of Covid-19, having an alternative to an enclosed sound booth with so many surfaces creating risks of viral cross-contamination is an incredible advantage.”
The Advantages of Portable Audiometry Over Mobile Audiometry
So what are the most essential advantages the Kuduwave has over mobile audiometers, or so-called “sound-booths-on-wheels”?
“Think about it,” says Dr Koekemoer. “When you have to transport an audiometric device that’s sitting on a desktop inside a big box over a bumpy road, you cannot trust the test results you get from it. Travelling with a mobile sound booth, cables can fall out or break, the headset can drop onto the floor, there are just so many things that can go wrong that will cause it to go out of calibration. For these reasons, mobile audiometers are not a viable alternative to the traditional audiometric sound booth at all.”
But the clinically validated, peer-reviewed Kuduwave portable audiometer is just that. A highly reliable, cost-effective, user-friendly alternative to the traditional, fixed-in-one-place audiometric booth.
Why Audiological Standards Matter
Audiological standards, both local and international, are crucial in the field of hearing healthcare. The reason for this is that the standardisation of a profession is rooted in a general agreement among the members of a certain profession to follow published evidence. It is also an agreement to update practices whenever indicated.
Standards will vary from country to country, but usually members of a specific profession are required to adhere to international standards. The field of audiology is no exception.
Some ANSI Standards for Audiology Include:
ANSI S1.4-1983 (R 2001), “American National Standard Specification for Sound Level Meters”
ANSI S1.40-1984 (R 2001), “American National Standard Specification for Acoustical Calibrators”
ANSI S3.1-1999 (R 2003), “American National Standard Maximum Permissible Ambient Noise Levels for Audiometric Test Rooms”
ANSI S3.6-1996 “American National Standard Specification for Audiometers”
ANSI S3.13-1987 (R 2002), “American National Standard Mechanical Coupler for Measurement of Bone Vibrators”
ANSI S3.21-1978 (R 1997), “American National Standard Method for Manual Pure-Tone Threshold Audiometry”
ANSI S3.39-1987 (R 2002), “American National Standard Specifications for Instruments to Measure Aural Acoustic Impedance and Admittance (Aural Acoustic Immittance)”
ANSI S3.42-1992 (R 2002), “American National Standard Testing Hearing Aids with a Broad-Band Noise Signal”
Calibration Standards for Portable Audiometers
As any audiologist or clinician working in the field of hearing healthcare knows, in order to yield accurate results, any audiometer requires calibration at various intervals, as prescribed by the relevant country’s standards for audiology.
South African National Standard (SANS) 10154-1 requires that a stationary audiometer that does not leave the location where it was originally calibrated must be calibrated once a year. A mobile audiometer, however, must be calibrated every three months. According to SANS, portable audiometers (such as the Kuduwave) require annual calibration.
“Unfortunately, the perception persists that the Kuduwave is a mobile audiometer that requires three-monthly calibration,” says Dr Koekemoer. “Inspectors often ask Kuduwave owners for calibration certificates, incorrectly assuming that it is a mobile audiometer. By law, the Kuduwave only requires annual calibration.”
Calibrating the Kuduwave in Space
What would the calibration standards be for the specially adapted Kuduwave portable audiometers currently used by astronauts to conduct self-testing aboard the International Space Station?
“By law, you have to comply with the standards for your country,” says Dr Koekemoer. So if you are calibrating your portable audiometer according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards in the USA, it will have to be done once a year. However, NASA is a research institute, so they test for calibration according to their own standards, which is lawful and allowed.”
Calibrating the Kuduwave Boothless Portable Audiometer
If the calibration interval standards for portable audiometers such as the Kuduwave is annual, what would be the procedure for having a Kuduwave calibrated? “When it’s almost time for your Kuduwave’s annual calibration service, an automatic message will pop up on your computer screen to remind you,” says Scotland. “Once an appointment has been made, our client simply couriers their Kuduwave audiometer to our head office in Johannesburg, where one of our qualified technicians will manually calibrate the device.”
Once calibration has been completed, the device is couriered back to the client. Including shipping time, the entire process usually takes about two to three days.
Calibrating a Kuduwave When Living Abroad
“Regarding overseas clients, there are calibrators who can calibrate our Kuduwave devices in just about every country where they are used,” says Dr Koekemoer. “But going this route often causes frustration, as calibrators sometimes incorrectly calibrate clients’ Kuduwave devices.”
As the manufacturer, we still recommend that clients send their devices in to us for calibration via courier, even from abroad. This will eliminate the chance of problems popping up post-calibration.