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Innovative military hearing health programs showcased at national conference

Lt. Col. John Merkley, Army Public Health Center, tests out a boothless audiometry headset system, one of four systems demonstrated by manufacturers during a workshop hosted by the DoD Hearing Center of Excellence at this year's National Hearing Conservation Association Conference. (HCE photo) Lt. Col. John Merkley, Army Public Health Center, tests out a boothless audiometry headset system, one of four systems demonstrated by manufacturers during a workshop hosted by the DoD Hearing Center of Excellence at this year's National Hearing Conservation Association Conference. (HCE photo)

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Hearing standards for new Air Force recruits saved the military service millions of dollars, according to a presentation by the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence at the annual National Hearing Conservation Association conference last month. Experts from the center shared the latest advances in hearing conservation programs and “boothless” technology for hearing tests. The Hearing Center of Excellence is a division of the Defense Health Agency Research and Development Directorate.

Air Force Col. LaKeisha Henry, the center’s division chief, moderated a panel session titled, “Building an effective Hearing Conservation Program and the value of prevention.” The session highlighted an HCE-led effort to standardize military recruitment and separation hearing testing standards across the Department of Defense. The effort led to a change in the Air Force’s policy, which initiated accession testing for all recruits at Basic Military Training and Officer Training School. Henry explained the ability to identify recruits with disqualifying hearing loss (or other conditions) in 2016 showed a DoD cost savings of $7.1 million. Henry said the value of hearing conservation efforts and associated cost savings is expected to increase.

The center’s Dr. Kathy Gates led a workshop on mobile hearing test technologies. Gates explained that boothless audiometry enables audiologists to conduct hearing tests without a traditional sound booth, enabling in-theater hearing assessments supporting readiness requirements, and encouraging early and direct access to hearing health services. Participants tested four of the latest boothless headset systems demonstrated by manufacturers during the workshop, and learned how each device can be used for hearing conservation services.

The center’s Kari Buchanan and Robert Williams discussed hearing protection devices required for different occupations and how to calculate how much protection is needed for various environments during a workshop titled, “Selecting Hearing Protection Devices Using New and Updated Standards”. Buchanan said noise can interfere with a person’s ability to communicate and to detect, identify, and localize sounds that may be crucial to work performance, and hearing conservation programs need to know what criteria to use to assess device capabilities for different job needs and environments. “We are shifting the paradigm from looking at hearing protection only as something that attenuates noise. The only way to make the right selection is go through the calculations to determine your situational awareness and sound localization needs,” said Buchanan.

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