Good research starts with good participants.
What do I mean by ‘good participants?’ We look for various factors depending on the specific study.
We categorize potential participants by their degree of hearing loss, if they are new or experienced hearing aid users, willingness to wear a specific style of hearing aids, cell phone users and type of cell phone, as well as their cooperation and ability to use various apps and accessories.
We need to ensure that the participants will be able to complete the various tasks in the lab and during the home trial as well as provide subjective feedback.
Where we find our participants
Fortunately for us, we are located near Chicago, IL which allows us to draw from a large pool of people. With that being said, we do limit the participants to the Chicagoland area, because many of the studies require multiple visits to our lab throughout the duration of the study, which on average last about 4-6 weeks.
We use various methods to recruit all types of participants for research studies. We have had ads in newspapers and on social media. Friends and family of Sonova employees have also spread the word about the research that takes place at PARC.
We also encourage local hearing care professional (HCP) offices to refer any of their patients that are interested or any patient they think would be a good candidate. And of course, by word of mouth from current participants!
Before the study begins
After we welcome the individual into PARC, we immediately review our Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocol and consent form.
Under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, an IRB has the responsibility to review and monitor biomedical research involving human subjects.1 The purpose of the IRB review and monitoring process is to protect the rights and welfare of humans that participate in the research studies. 1 If the person agrees to participate in research, s/he signs the research consent form.
The research audiologist reviews with the participant that any testing and hearing aid fittings completed at PARC are for research study purposes only. The participant still needs to maintain a relationship with their HCP for their hearing tests and hearing aid fittings and follow up.
A day in the life of a participant – the first visit
There are many similarities between a clinical audiologist and research audiologist, as mentioned in a recent blog article by my colleague Lisa Standaert. 2 For research participants, the first research study appointment is very similar to a first visit to their HCP.
Below is a typical first visit:
- The participant fills out a case history and we review this with them. We also ask additional case history questions related to Lyric to determine if the person is a potential Lyric research study candidate.
- Otoscopy is completed and the participant is measured for the receiver wire/slim tube length so that we have this information on file for any upcoming research studies.
- We take earmold impressions that are scanned for future use for custom earpieces, molds, and hearing aids as needed for the studies.
- An audiogram is completed comprising of air conduction, bone conduction, speech reception thresholds, word recognition testing and speech in noise (QuickSIN) testing.
- We administer the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) to ensure that the participant will be able to complete the various tasks and procedures well during studies.
- The participant fills out the Emotional Communication in Hearing Questionnaire (EMO-CheQ) which assesses experiences of hearing handicap when listening to signals that contain vocal emotion information.
The duration of the clinical study
Study visits are held in the lab at PARC (during weekday workday hours) and can also involve a home trial with study devices. Length of appointments vary (30 minutes up to 3 hours) as well as the number of appointments during the length of the study.
During testing, participants might be blinded or unblinded. This is also the case for the researcher. Participants will be involved in various tasks during the study. Some are usability related while others are subjective or objective tasks (e.g., Speech-in-Noise test).
Participants might be asked to provide feedback and detailed information about their experiences throughout the study. Once the study concludes, they must return the study devices and accessories.*
What the research participants have to say about their experiences in hearing aid research
“I am one of the participants that very much enjoy the process of research and like being able to assess new hearing aids. I like to think that I’m helping the research and the end users at the same time. Obviously, I enjoy using the newest technology, especially since my personal hearing aids are getting near the end of their useful cycle. My only regret is that at the end of a particular study, I must turn in the aids.”
“I began having hearing loss at 47 and have been wearing hearing aids for about ten years. By participating in research I have gained so much knowledge on my hearing loss. It has also given me the confidence to talk about my loss and encourage others to not be afraid to wear hearing aids.
I love giving feedback in the studies knowing that it could improve the devices. I have worked with many wonderful and knowledgeable people. I really enjoy participating in the studies because I know it helps this technology grow and that benefits all people wearing hearing aids!! Losing my hearing was not easy but by being involved in this research has given me hope that people do care about giving hearing aid wearers the best sound possible!!”
“In addition to helping Phonak with their research studies, it has also allowed me to better understand and use their latest technology. Experiencing how their newest hearing aids can benefit my type of hearing loss is like the ultimate test drive of the newest sports car!”
To read about various clinical hearing aid research studies conducted at PARC and other various sites, please visit https://www.phonakpro.com/evidence.
* Participants do not receive free or discounted hearing aids for participating in research, but they are compensated for their time and travel.
- US Food & Drug Administration (n.d.) Institutional review boards (IRBs) and protection of human subjects in clinical trials. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/center-drug-evaluation-and-research-cder/institutional-review-boards-irbs-and-protection-human-subjects-clinical-trials, accessed July 12, 2021.
- Standaert, L. (2021). Ever wonder what we do in research audiology? Retrieved from https://audiologyblog.phonakpro.com/how-different-are-our-roles-in-research-audiology/, accessed July 12, 2021.