mimi hearing technologies hearing health

Democratizing Access to Better Hearing: Interview with Sarah Voice of Mimi Hearing Technologies

Ever wish you could fine-tune the frequency response of your favorite electronic devices? Well, Mimi Hearing Technologies allows you to do this in products that license their software development toolkit (SDK).

In this issue of This Week in Hearing, host Amyn Amlani has a conversation with Chief Research Officer, Sarah Voice, about their technology to test hearing sensitivity, their SDK applications, their integration with Apple Health, and a discussion on Mimi’s report on the World Hearing Index.  

Full Episode Transcript

Amyn Amlani 0:10
So welcome to this Week in Hearing. My name is Amyn Amlani, and I have the privilege of serving as your host. For today’s webcast, I have the pleasure of talking with Sarah Voice, Chief Research Officer at Mimi Hearing Technology. Thank you for your time and sharing many of the fascinating work that’s taking place at Mimi Hearing.

Sarah Voice 0:29
Thanks so much Amyn, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Amyn Amlani 0:31
So let’s start by sharing a little bit about yourself with the audience. If you don’t mind,

Sarah Voice 0:38
no problem. I have a relatively diverse background and ended up in the hearing space, sort of by chance. I am a longtime music lover, and I studied actually classical music performance and engineering in university. This is kind of where my passion for combining music and tech started. After that, I actually moved into healthcare tech space and spent a number of years working in the US in healthcare tech. And once I heard of Mimi, I really was fascinated by the approach of taking something that’s essentially an accessibility product, a healthcare device, and bringing that directly to consumers. So instead of having to work through the healthcare system, which can sometimes be slow and difficult to navigate, really bringing people products that improve their lives, right directly to the things they use every day.

Amyn Amlani 1:22
Yeah, and that seems to be the trend that’s going on in, in healthcare today. And it’s it’s a, it’s something that I’m really interested in. And I know a lot of our viewers are, and I think it’s a it’s a great way to get the person who can’t get through the healthcare system, the tools that they need in order to be successful and improve their quality of life. So what you guys are doing, and I followed you guys for a number of years. And I just think, the world of what you guys are doing. So let’s talk about Mimi a little bit. You know, I know that they started back in was it 2013, ’14, ’15-ish. So tell us a little bit about about what they are in what they do, in addition to what you’ve talked about?

Sarah Voice 2:03
Certainly, yeah, Mimi was founded in 2014, in Berlin, and we actually still have our still have our headquarters here in Berlin. But we operate all across the world. It was the brainchild of the two founders basically started with the concept of how can we bring hearing products directly to consumers. And we have a number of different ways that we do this. One of the ways that’s probably the most user-facing that you can interact with today, as any user, is our hearing test that’s directly available on the App Store. And this is maybe just the first entry point that people can take to learn something about the hearing, take a hearing test. And that first gives you that first glimpse into the world that’s available through me, the main thesis that we have is that everybody deserves to hear well, and we want to provide products and services that allow people to do that in a very democratizing way.

Amyn Amlani 2:53
Wow, that’s, that’s really, that’s really great. So you brought up this whole thing of products. And I think one of the first things that I downloaded a number of years ago was the hearing test. So I know you’ve got different hearing tests, and you’ve got different personalized fitting paradigms and protocols and platforms. So can you talk a little bit about those if you if you don’t mind?

Sarah Voice 3:16
Yeah, I’d be happy to. So we have sort of three primary technologies at this point, you can kind of break it down into testing, fitting and processing. So starting with the hearing testing aspect, as you already noted, we have a couple of different paradigms to test hearing. First is the pure tone threshold test, which is a standard test that you would get when you go to an audiologist. This test is measuring the lowest intensity or quietest sound that you can hear across a range of frequencies, as I’m sure your listeners know. And this is something that if you download the iOS app, that’s the experience, you’ll get the product of this is the audiogram. And this can be used either just as a standalone product, I want to take a hearing test and find out how I hear or as something that can take you further in the Mimi realm, we can use this test to then go to the second step, which is the fitting. And the fitting is the process by which we take the hearing test data that we have create a personal profile or Hearing ID as we call it. And then this can be used to set up your processing. And the processing is the actual sound of, sound modification process, that we use to bring back clarity, detail, increased speech intelligibility, all of those things. And that’s sort of the technological aspect of what we do. And how we deliver this to partners is via flexible SDKs that can be implemented in software products, such as streaming products, video on demand, or directly into hardware products, such as headphones, smartphones, TVs. I skipped over the second part of the hearing test, but we have this other paradigm called the masked threshold test, which is basically measuring the lowest intensity sound that you can hear in the presence of a masking noise. And the reason we developed the second hearing test is because it’s less sensitive to differences in between hardware. So the absolute sound output level is not as important we don’t need to calibrate for devices and this allows us to operate on any number of consumer devices,

Amyn Amlani 5:03
yeah, so if I’m understanding this correctly, and I’m completely fascinated, you then have the capabilities of testing someone’s hearing. And then you can individualize the soundscape that’s being played out of some system, whether it’s a speaker system or whatever, to that individual, so that they’re hearing where they have deficits – is that am I understanding that correctly?

Sarah Voice 5:25
Absolutely. So the more we know about your hearing, the better our fitting will be, the better the processing will be. So if I have say, just even demographic information on someone, I know how old you are, I can even give an initial fit based on that, because as we know, your hearing changes for most people relatively predictably, over time, we can use that information to create a personal profile, and then compensate for that parts of your auditory system that aren’t functioning as optimally as they used to be.

Amyn Amlani 5:52
So let me ask you this, you know, given given that you created this technology, I’m assuming that many of your partners are found in not only the industrial side of the world, but also in the third world countries where they have the opportunities, or they don’t have the resources, but now they have the opportunities through smartphones, and what have you, in order to utilize your technology? Am I, Am I correct?

Sarah Voice 6:21
Certainly, that’s absolutely an application that we’re very interested in, especially in some of the developing nations, there just aren’t enough audiologists or trained professionals to be able to take care of the population of people who may have hearing impairment. And so using our mobile application, you can have much greater access to populations who would otherwise not have the access to resources to measure their hearing.

Amyn Amlani 6:43
Yeah. So you know, I was looking on your website, I noticed one of the partners that you have is Apple, and you have something that is kind of synergized with the Apple Health component. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Sarah Voice 7:01
Certainly, yeah. So I don’t want to exaggerate and say Apple is one of our close partners. But we we are available to be used in the Apple ecosystem. So using our hearing test app on iOS, you can easily take the audiogram that’s generated from our app, and upload it to HealthKit. And then additionally, take advantage of the accessibility features that Apple has included in the air pods, take that audiogram, and then personalize your AirPods with your hearing profile, and then enjoy personalized sound on the Apple AirPods. Just to be clear, the processing that’s on the air pods is not our processing, it’s an Apple product, but you can use part of our ecosystem to better setup that accessibility feature. Yeah,

Amyn Amlani 7:38
that’s really cool. And then, you know, for consumers that are using this, is it safe, I mean, are there’s securities in place or protections in place?

Sarah Voice 7:48
Certainly, we take security very seriously, our hearing test itself is a CE certified medical product here in Europe, class one. And through that we adhere to very strict privacy, and also security safety standards to ensure the medical data is protected, and that users can be sure that they’re being taken care of in our ecosystem.

Amyn Amlani 8:08
So let me ask you this. Again, I’ve followed you for a number of years. And I’m just fascinated by some of the things that you all are doing. Do you then record any of the data? So for example, do you have a potential repository of different IDs of hearing losses, and other things like this, this person is using this type of gain, or they’re using it on this type of device? Do you have that kind of information?

Sarah Voice 8:35
Really depends. So if you take a hearing test, through our app, we do of course, get the data about your hearing profile, we maintain, we make sure that we don’t collect personal, personally identifiable information. So there’s no way of connecting a particular hearing profile to a specific user. But in this pseudo-anonymized or anonymized form, we have a large database of how people hear across the world that then also can be used to glean insights from so we can learn about how things might be different in different areas of the world and use that as a tool to not only make our products better, but also give insights to people in those areas and across the world.

Amyn Amlani 9:10
That’s fascinating. And so as you’re talking about these these different data repositories, you have this thing called a World Hearing Index. Can you share that with us?

Sarah Voice 9:22
Absolutely. Yeah, it’s something we publish every year. Since we do collect some amount of data through the hearing test, it’s only fair to give some of those insights back to the users and let people see what we what we can learn from this database. So every year, as you pointed out, we publish this World Hearing Index, we basically look at our repository of hearing tests, we have around 2 million at this point in our database, and calculate a global global age normalized hearing average and then compare does this change if I look at different geographies, so I think in the hearing index, you can see in a positive example, the average Canadian hears two decibels better on than the global average and in some other areas, in slightly worse.

Amyn Amlani 10:01
Yeah. And what we’ll do for this podcast is we’ll, we’ll go ahead if with your permission, and put a link to that page at the bottom so folks can access this information. Because I think again, it’s really, really fascinating. And if I remember correctly, there are places in the world that are really, really loud.

Sarah Voice 10:20
Yeah, that’s another thing we looked at, in trying to analyze the data. Of course, we can’t show any causation. But is there a correlation between areas where there see there’s worse hearing, hearing on average, and city noise. And you can really see a correlation between areas where noise pollution is a really big problem, and reduced hearing ability. I think the WHO estimated that outside of air pollution or other kinds of pollution, noise pollution is one of the biggest threats or risks for humans in these communities. And it’s something that we’re very interested in continuing to, to look at.

Amyn Amlani 10:55
Yeah, in for our audience, the World Health Organization is going to have World Hearing Day again, I believe it’s March 3 of 2022. And the basic thesis for this one, is this noise pollution component. So are you guys having conversations with the World Health Organization? Or is there any discussions about using your data to help with their particular thesis that’s going to be presented in a few months,

Sarah Voice 11:21
and nothing concrete at the moment, but we are always open for collaboration, and I believe we know, we have a few contacts there, and would be very happy to collaborate on some kind of analysis looking at that thesis.

Amyn Amlani 11:32
Yeah, and I know from I know, from, you know, being an academic for a number of years, and teaching the course on on musicians and noise exposure, that, you know, noise pollution, it has also health issues that come from it. And so this is a really critical thing. And as you pointed out, you know, it gives us a sense of where things might not be where they need to be, and things are better, where they, where they are, like, for example, in Canada, and that then allows those jurisdictions, if you will, to put policies in place or have opportunities to figure out how to better though in the lives of those individuals that are there, because now data has information and that information can be used in a in a way that’s meaningful. So it’s really cool.

Sarah Voice 12:21
Certainly, I think the down downstream effects of noise pollution are something that most people don’t think about. So one of the things we really try to achieve with the World Hearing Index is just making people aware, because oftentimes people don’t think about the impact that you know, overexposure has on their lives, not just when it comes to say, you know, disrupted sleep or negative health outcomes, but also how down the line, you’re hearing is a very precious sense. Once you lose it, there’s really no bringing it back. So raising that awareness early and often to let people know how they can protect themselves and hopefully mitigate some of the risks of the noisy world we live in.

Amyn Amlani 12:57
Yeah, if I remember right from the report, one of the findings that you all shared was that these noise solutions were affecting the younger generation quite a bit.

Sarah Voice 13:08
One of the fascinating things about the younger generations is that it’s pretty clear at this point, I mean, in general, people across the age spectrum are consuming more digital audio from personal streaming devices, cellphones, headphones, all of that, but especially young people are consuming it almost alarming levels. And we can see already that this overconsumption is leading to worse hearing outcomes for people in the younger age groups. I think the statistic is 15% of US school aged children already have some form of measurable hearing loss, which is really, really shocking and something that we know the consumer, electronic companies, people selling these devices have a moral imperative to inform and protect, especially children from these risks.

Amyn Amlani 13:51
Yeah, yeah. Well, let’s turn this to a positive. And that is, is that your technology is probably helped a lot of people during the COVID period.

Sarah Voice 13:59
Yeah, it’s, it’s, we’ve seen a really interesting uptick both in the number of hearing tests and also the feedback we’re getting from people about how this would be so great to have in Zoom, I’d really love to have this product in these sort of new digital formats that we’re interacting with. It’s also great that you know, in order to monitor your hearing, you no longer have to go into the audiologist, you can protect yourself, stay at home, not expose yourself unnecessarily to COVID or potential other risks. And that then that’s really great to see that we can we can bring something to people. The other thing that we’ve really been working on the last year is so that the protection aspect, there’s we developed through the other research that we’ve done a special processing that actually reduces the dose for younger people. So people who don’t have hearing loss or may not benefit from the the augmentation of the processing, but we can give them a protection mode that allows them to listen to have a lower volume, expose themselves less and potentially mitigate the risk of being on eight hours of Zoom calls a day or watching watching Netflix and really interacting a lot more with digital audio.

Amyn Amlani 15:02
Wow. That’s, that’s incredible. So what’s next for you guys, you guys have done a lot of things in a short period of time. It’s a, it’s really incredible and fascinating. What’s next?

Sarah Voice 15:15
Well, our focus is really on this idea of hearing well-being. And as I already said democratizing access, we want to be able to provide a platform that has a suite of products and services that can help people hear well, hear better. And hearing well is, of course, the accessibility side, giving people back, you know, the detail richness and clarity. But also, as I mentioned, with this dose protection, giving features to people that allow them to maintain their hearing longer, monitor their dose, make informed decisions about how they’re exposing themselves, and just have this holistic approach to hearing health and hearing well being. We’re also continuing to expand our offering, we offer our products at this point, pretty much across all different types of hardware and software. And we really want to continue to grow globally and have this available on as many devices and markets as possible.

Amyn Amlani 16:04
Yeah, it that’s, that’s, that’s incredible. And as we start as we wrap this up here in certainly get I really appreciate your time. And I know that there’s a huge time differences. You’re in Berlin, and I’m here in the States. But what are some final thoughts. And if you think about the environment that we’re in, we now have these OTCs and direct to consumer products. And, you know, we’ve got all this legislation that’s going on. And you guys offer this opportunity for these individuals to better communicate better here. While all of this noise is going on in our space. What are some final thoughts for our viewers?

Sarah Voice 16:47
Well, first of all, I’m really, really excited to see this topic gaining in importance and gaining and relevance in the general conversation. When I started at Mimi, I guess, five years ago, now, it took almost 30 minutes of talking to someone for them to understand the product and what we’re doing and how. And now within two seconds, people say, Wow, this is a really important topic, I get it, hearing health, hearing accessibility, this is really important. So first of all, super excited to see that the topic is starting to become, you know, really just part of the public discussion. I think the final thought that, you know, we really are trying to push is that, let’s keep it going. OTC hearing aids, they’re just the first start, we want to continue to lower the barriers to access, continue to have these hearing accessibility standards, mandatory required across all devices and make it as seamless and easy as possible for people to adopt these technologies.

Amyn Amlani 17:36
Yeah, and from my perspective, you know, I think the whole dose component is really important too, because we, as audiologist, we lack many times the preventative component, and by you allowing us to know what those numbers are, it allows us then to potentially not only self regulate, but as people walk into a provider’s office, and you have and they’re willing, patient is willing to share that smartphone with the data in there. You can then help with the counseling of that individual to maybe reduce the acceleration of hearing loss coming on.

Sarah Voice 18:12
Absolutely. I firmly believe that if you put information in the hands of people and providers, they will make better decisions. And we want to enable that we want to facilitate that.

Amyn Amlani 18:21
Well, wonderful, Sarah, I really appreciate your time. It’s been a it’s been fascinating to hear what you all are doing, keep doing what you’re doing, because I think it brings us to a better place as a community. And hopefully we can get you back on here a number of months down the road, see what you all are doing maybe the World Health Organization and you guys will be able to partner we can have a big pow-wow about that, which I think really be cool. And, again, appreciate your time and sharing the information that you did today.

Sarah Voice 18:55
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here and I look forward to sharing some of the exciting things that are coming down the pipeline in a few months.

Amyn Amlani 19:01
Sounds good. Thank you.

Sarah Voice 19:02
Thank you

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About the Panel

Sarah Voice is Mimi Hearing Technologies’ Chief Research Officer. Originally from Michigan, and having a diverse background in Music, Tech, and Healthcare, Sarah has been with Mimi for the past 4 years. She originally served in the role of Senior Data Analyst followed by a role as Product Manager responsible for the launch of the Android Hearing Test. Eventually, Sarah moved into the position of Head of Research given her deep understanding of the product and health-use case. At Mimi, Sarah is focused on the company’s future on connecting commercial and product functions that help people hear better.

 

Amyn M. Amlani, PhD, is President of Otolithic, LLC, a consulting firm that provides competitive market analysis and support strategy, economic and financial assessments, segment targeting strategies and tactics, professional development, and consumer insights. Dr. Amlani has been in hearing care for 25+ years, with extensive professional experience in the independent and medical audiology practice channels, as an academic and scholar, and in industry. Dr. Amlani also serves as section editor of Hearing Economics for Hearing Health Technology Matters (HHTM).


About HHTM

HHTM's mission is to bridge the knowledge gaps in treating hearing loss by providing timely information and lively insights to anyone who cares about hearing loss. Our contributors and readers are drawn from many sectors of the hearing field, including practitioners, researchers, manufacturers, educators, and, importantly, hearing-impaired consumers and those who love them.

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