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DIY comes to healthcare

Hearing Aids presented at CES 2023 signal a new wave of do it yourself healthcare. Image credit: Eargo

Over the last three months I have been seeing an audiologist to buy and finely tune hearing aids (another sign I am getting older). It started with a set of hearing tests (you basically have to listen to a variety of frequencies at different loudness and signal the audiologist when you hear the sound) and then with the tuning of the hearing aids. Subsequent visits (basically once a week) led to fine tune the hearing aids, each time increasing their amplification of specific frequencies and testing the effect on my hearing (you need to get used to the amplification and going one small step at a time makes it easier).

There is also an app that I downloaded on my smartphone to control the hearing aids but I was told by the audiologist not to tweak the frequencies amplification, since that is a complex task better done in his lab.

To enjoy this I had to pay some 6,000€. Now I saw that the FDA in the US has approved over-the-counter hearing aids that can be tuned by the user. At CES Eargo showcased a pair of such hearing aids and basically at the same time Sony has announced a set of hearing aids that can be self-tuned. Part of the tuning process is  managed automatically through software in the smartphone. Both the Eargo and the Sony are selling at a fraction of the cost I paid, and it makes sense since you no longer need the sequel of visits to the audiologist.

I take this as an example of a change in the making in healthcare. During the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen testing shifting from healthcare centres to people’s home, a do-it-yourself testing.

Personal digital twins will become healthcare assistants, chatbots will be using AI to learn their user and over time are likely to become even more “sensitive” to their user condition than the physician and, when in doubt, will call the physician to take over.

This is part of a general trend in healthcare towards both personalised care and de-.localised care (meaning that there is no need -in most situation- to see a doctor, to go to a healthcare centre). The time of (assisted) DIY healthcare is approaching fast.


About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.