Free telephone test tells consumers if they may need hearing help

David Kirkwood
June 18, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, IN—More than 30,000 Americans took a free over-the-phone hearing test in May, which was National Better Hearing Month. Because of the enthusiastic response, Communication Disorders Technology, Inc., a non-profit organization that waived the usual $8 charge for using its screening tool, decided to extend the free offer through the end of June.

The National Hearing Test was developed by the Bloomington, IN-based company in partnership with Indiana University and the VU Medical Center of Amsterdam. The project received financial support from the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).

There are a number of free online tests available to help people determine if they may have a hearing loss, including one on the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) web site. These ask consumers questions about how much difficulty they have understanding speech in various situations, such as on the phone or in a noisy environment. However, they do not present speech, as the telephone test does.

According to Communication Disorders Technology, its test is the country’s first widely available, scientifically valid, affordable test to screen for hearing impairment over the phone. It has no financial connection with any hearing products or services. 

Charles Watson

Charles Watson

Charles Watson, PhD, chief scientist for the National Hearing Test and president of Communication Disorders Technology, noted, “Many European countries and Australia already offer this kind of test.” But, he added, in this country where no such test has existed, “Nearly half of adults over age 48 experience hearing loss, yet few seek help. The National Hearing Test lets them assess their own hearing by phone in the privacy of their own homes.”





A press release reporting on the strong consumer participation in the test stated that untreated hearing loss “can lead to job problems and income reduction, social isolation, embarrassment, and significantly lower quality of life. Hearing loss is irreversible, but if caught early, steps can be taken to keep its effects from worsening.” This was the impetus for launching the National Hearing Test.



To take the National Hearing Test, a person calls the toll-free number 866/223-7575 and follows the directions provided. Callers listen to a series of spoken three-digit numbers (for example 3-5-1) presented with a noisy background. If the caller enters the numbers correctly on the phone’s keypad, the next sequence of numbers is presented at a lower, more difficult level. If an error is made, the next numbers are easier to hear. The user’s accuracy is measured in real time to determine the extent of hearing loss. The test is divided into two parts—one to test the right ear and one for the left–and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.

At the end of the test, the caller is told that his or her hearing is “within the expected range for people with normal hearing,” “slightly below” the normal range, or “substantially below” the normal range. Those in the second and third categories are advised to consider getting a hearing evaluation from an audiologist or a physician who specializes in hearing.



While saying that the “telephone-administered test provides an accurate estimate of a person’s hearing in the speech-frequency range,” Watson, who holds a doctorate in experimental psychology, emphasized, “It is not a substitute for a full hearing evaluation by an audiologist. The screening test is for those who suspect they might have a hearing problem, but are not sufficiently convinced to make that appointment. Some callers pass the test and are relieved, while others fail and are advised to seek a full evaluation.”

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