Guest: Dr Ben Fernee
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Dr. Ben Fernée currently serves as National Audiology Manager at Oticon Australia, managing product introductions, audiological and technical issues as well as training. Up until July 2013, he was the Product Manager in Oticon Paediatrics, Denmark. In his work as Product Manager at Oticon Denmark, Ben was involved in the development of all new paediatric hearing instruments from Oticon, including hearing aids and FM systems. He completed a Bachelor of Speech Pathology, then a Master of Audiology at the University of Queensland. He went on to complete his Au.D in the US. He has worked as an Audiologist for many years in both the clinical setting and also in manufacturing, in Brisbane, and Toronto and Vancouver in Canada. Ben has a special interest in new hearing instrument technology and how this can be matched to patient needs.
Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, we are joined by Oticon Australia‘s National Audiology Manager Dr Ben Fernee. He is here to talks about the latest developments in research being conducted around cognitive decline and hearing loss especially to our ageing population. Oticon Australia is in constant dialogue with users, listening to their personal and professional challenges; and with hearing care professionals, who are a vital link in achieving user satisfaction on all parameters. They bring together scientists, anthropologists, hearing care professionals, users and their families, to increase understanding and identify new areas of research and development, and constantly make new discoveries about users’ expectations, needs and social interaction in daily life.
Health Professional Radio – Oticon Australia
Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio with Wayne Bucklar. Today my guest is Dr. Ben Fernee. Ben is the National Audiology Manager at Oticon Australia and Ben joins me from Sydney in Australia. Ben welcome to Health Professional Radio.
Dr. Ben Fernee: Thanks Wayne. Thanks for having me today.
W: It’s a pleasure. Now Ben Oticon Australia, tell us something about the firm and what it is that you do and what services you offer.
F: Sure. It’s actually a really old company. We begun in 1904 in Copenhagen, Denmark and since that period up until now the company has 30 subsidiary businesses in over 30 countries. But also the instrument themselves so the hearing aid themselves are sold in over a 100 different countries. So overall we sort of focus our business on hearing aids but we also make other equipment in the sort of the hearing healthcare domain.
W: Right, that’s a really big footprint if you’re operating in a hundred countries. Now I understand you’re one of the leading firms in research in this areas as well.
F: That’s right. We’re really committed to research and development and I think that’s what enables us to have so much success in the industry. But just for an example last year we spent over a $140,000 Million just on research and development and we’re the only hearing instrument manufacturer to have a dedicated research institution. And I’d like to tell you a bit about what we do up there later on.
W: Ben given that Oticon is a big player in research in this area of specialization, what have you been looking into? And how do you go about doing your research?
F: Sure. Well we’ve got really close links with universities and other academic institutions but we do have our own dedicated research facility called Eriksholm just sort of north of Copenhagen there. But they’re focusing on the three big mega trends in the hearing research and these relate to Brain Computer Interfacing. Here we’re looking at sort of using things like the EEG to help … the acoustical analysis hardwearing hearing instruments. We’re also looking at pupillometry where we measure the diameter of a person’s pupil as a way to record cognitive effects from moment to moment and then relate this to hearing, so that’s in that area. We’re also looking at another big megatrend “eHealth” or “electronic health” and this is where we’re using online resources for hearing rehabilitation so doing sort of remote fittings and that sort of things. And we’re also looking at which is really exciting, looking at advance signal processing algorithms and this is where it helps someone with a hearing loss to facilitate the separation of competing voices or competing noises. And also just helps them in sort of noisy environments where we know people with hearing loss really struggle.
W: And Ben I just missed the name of that research institute, if you could give us that again please?
F: Yeah, it’s called “Eriksholm” which is if anyone is interested to have a looked what they’re doing, it’s ‘K’ in the Eriksholm so … it’s a research facility just North of Copenhagen.
W: Love to hear about it. You mentioned the hearing aids but then you kind of drifted into other things as well. The range of instruments that you make extended beyond hearing aid?
F: That’s right. We also make “cochlear implants,” a new device which you may not have heard of called “bone anchored hearing aid,” and we also make diagnostic equipment not only investigating hearing but also investigating balance as well.
W: I see. And Ben as someone in the media and not in the clinical field, the number of things I’ve not heard about in clinical matter is astronomical let me tell you. Ben given that Oticon’s got such a big footprint in the industry, is there a message that you’d like clinicians who are listening to us today to take away?
F: Yeah, actually we’ve got quite an exciting development that we introduced three weeks ago. We introduced a range of new hearing aids, specifically for those patients with severe and profound hearing losses.
W: So when you say to me severe and profound hearing loss, in my ignorance I’m thinking well a hearing aid is not going to help, but that’s not the case.
F: Yeah, that’s right. Someone with a severe or profound hearing loss without their hearing device, they really struggle to communicate so they heavily rely on lip-reading. There’s also a change to fit with technology because they get used to the technology they’re listening to and any new development it takes a bit of a longer transition period. But what we’ve developed is a new type of technology that enables us to bring sounds from the high frequencies which is generally softer type sounds like the S and the SH sound and reposition those sound to a lower frequency where it’s more in the person’s audible range. So it’s a sort of unique approach that we’re doing, but in the clinical trials we’ve done, we’ve had really favorable results.
W: That’s great news to hear. And at the end of the interview listeners if you’re interested in that technology, I’ll give you a website to go and visit and find out more about it. I do want to ask Ben before we run out of time about “cognitive brain hearing loss research.” Now I understand there’s been some recent developments in this area.
F: Yeah, just this month in the American Geriatric Society Journal a really interesting study was published – it was a 25 year longitudinal study. And it’s made a link between reduced rates of cognitive decline in those people with hearing loss, of the ones that are wearing hearing aids. So the bottom line is that as you get older, there is a natural sort of level of cognitive decline but if you have a hearing loss and you don’t do anything about it in terms of having amplification or hearing aid, you’ll have an accelerated rate of cognitive decline which is quite worrying. So really the bottom line is that if you’re aging – which we all are – and you have a hearing loss, definitely sort of do something about it because … the results sort of make it clear the link between accelerated rates of cognitive decline and not doing anything about your hearing loss.
W: That’s extraordinary research really, isn’t it? The two have never been much connected previously as far as I know.
F: That’s right. That sort of links to if you have a hearing loss you’re less likely to be engaged in sort of socialization and other activities and that in turn has an effect on sort your withdrawal from activities and then that sort of influences your rate of cognitive decline. So really interesting research in this space.
W: It is indeed. Now Ben my favorite question in every interview and I must say just before I get to my favorite question, there’s much more happening in the field of hearing and hearing loss than I had imagined so we’ll have to get you back and talk to you again in depth about some of these matters because we just skimmed across the top today a little bit. Okay?
F: Yeah, thanks.
W: In every industry there are misconceptions and my favorite question in every interview, what’s the biggest misconception amongst your colleagues, clients, patients that is about hearing loss and that drive you nuts and keep you awake at night?
F: Sure. I think it would have to be related to patients’ reluctance to get hearing aids when they first notice the problem. We know that the average sort of person it takes 7 years from first noticing their hearing loss to actually getting a hearing aid. And the interesting thing with that in the research I was talking about earlier that was done in France with that cohort of over 25 years, the first signs of cognitive decline were noticed after 7 years in those people with hearing loss. So really, if you’ve noticed that you are struggling in back ground noise, struggling to hear voices or you’ve got the TV turned up, go and get a hearing test and do something about it – that would be my advice.
W: It is one of those easy things to do, isn’t it? There is no hearing test that require blood to be taken or things to be poked into you. It’s easy to do it straight forward.
F: Yup, that’s right.
W: Dr. Ben Fernee National Audiology Manager with Oticon Australia, thank you for time today. I do appreciate it and I do appreciate the passion with which you speak about your topic.
F: My pleasure Wayne. Thanks for having me.
W: It’s been our pleasure to have you. And if you’re interested in finding out more about Oticon, the website is www.oticon.com.au O T I C O N dot com dot au. Or if you’ve missed my interview or you’ve just joined us, we have a transcript on our website and you can also follow the audio archive on YouTube and SoundCloud. The links to all of those resources are available on our website at www.hpr.fm. This is Health Professional Radio, my name is Wayne Bucklar.