Publish date: 21 October 2021

UCLH and UCL researchers have set out how artificial intelligence (AI) can and should be harnessed to transform hearing healthcare and research.

In a paper published in Nature Machine Intelligence, they highlight the potential of AI to significantly improve screening, diagnosis and management of hearing and ear conditions, and how ‘telemedicine’ can improve access to hearing care and enable care during a pandemic.

Hearing and ear issues have profound and wide-ranging impacts on sufferers and society as a whole. They are a leading cause of disability, affecting around 500 million people worldwide.

In the paper, UCL scientist Prof Nicholas Lesica and UCLH clinicians Dr Nishchay Mehta and Dr Joseph Manjaly outline how AI can improve accuracy of diagnosis of hearing conditions.

AI technology is already able to identify six different middle ear conditions with 90% accuracy, they explain.

The researchers explain how AI systems could benefit users of hearing devices by improving understanding of speech in noisy environments. Such AI systems can help users separate and ‘pick out’ the voice of a known talker from surrounding noise.

And they explain how hearing care services – including the fitting of hearing devices – can now be offered via remote consultations. Online appointments enable greater convenience for patients and allow care to be given regardless of patient location.

Dr Mehta said: “Use of AI will enable us to reshape the care we offer to our patients – and it has the potential to do this in the very near term. These tools will ensure better diagnosis and better treatment decisions.

Work to apply AI to hearing care and research is underway at the UCL Ear Institute, the Royal National ENT Hospital at UCLH, with underpinning support from the BRC’s Deafness and Hearing Problems theme.