Hearing loss study has potential to transform diagnosis and treatment

doctor examining patient's ear

A study currently being trialled for Armed Forces patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham (QEHB) could lead to vast improvements in the care pathway for detecting and treating hearing problems.

The Remote Audiometric Performance Innovation Evaluation and Review (RAPIER) project will speed up the decision-making process for soldiers with hearing problems both in the UK and overseas.

The project, a collaboration between the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM), and BHP founder member University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), aims to improve and streamline the referral and management process for military patients with hearing problems.

The RAPIER team photograph
L-R Mr. Jameel Muzaffar; Mr. Chris Coulson; Lt Col Linda Orr; Miss Rupan Banga; Amy Gosling

Patients referred through the RAPIER system will be reviewed by specialists within two weeks, with emergency referrals reviewed within 24 hours. Patients will be assessed more quickly and those who do not need active treatment can continue working but with occupational health advise in place to protect them.

The UK Military Hearing Collaboration (hearWELL), led by Lt Col Linda Orr, have developed a Downrange Acoustic Toolbox (DAT) meaning patients can be assessed remotely. Lt Col Orr, who was recently awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List, said: “The toolbox includes a smart phone endoscope attachment, boothless headset to obtain an audiogram, a tablet computer and an endoscope to obtain a picture of the eardrum.

“Thanks to the toolbox, we can complete rapid assessments no matter where the patient lives.

“I’d like to thank the QEHB ENT and Audiology department, hearWELL collaboration team, RCDM colleagues and UHB R&D for their support and hard work on developing the RAPIER trial.”

RAPIER, managed by hearWELL, is funded through UK Defence, Army Reform and the Joint Medical Group with support from the LIBOR fund.

The study aims to recruit 1,200 people over the next 12 months, with the full trial results expected to be published in early 2021.

“If successful, the RAPIER study could lead to patients in the UK and abroad with suspected acute or chronic hearing loss being assessed more quickly, which will lead to faster treatment options being offered where appropriate,” added Lt Col Orr.

To find out more about the RAPIER project, please email hearWELL@uhb.nhs.uk