An Inside Look at Starkey’s Clinical Research with Dr. Michelle Hicks, VP of Education & Audiology
AudiologyOnline: What is the goal of Clinical Research at Starkey?
Michelle Hicks, PhD: The focus of Clinical and Audiology Research at Starkey is to objectively evaluate our features and products using the best evidence-based research methods to ensure they are safe, effective and provide real patient benefit. Our team is comprised of a dynamic and dedicated group of audiologists and hearing scientists working to develop innovative hearing aid technology and explore important questions about hearing loss, balance, cognition, and the connections between hearing and socialization. With expertise in clinical audiology, psychoacoustics, cognitive psychology, acoustical engineering, and advanced statistics, Starkey has an unparalleled team working to verify and validate hearing aid performance.
AudiologyOnline: How is Clinical Research completed at Starkey?
Michelle Hicks, PhD: It starts with strong collaborations across the organization. The clinical researchers work with the engineers and subject-matter experts that are developing the products and features, making sure that everyone has a full understanding of the hardware, algorithms, software, or mobile app interactions to fully evaluate the performance and benefits in a way that is accurate, objective, and scientifically sound. Our studies are then pre-approved by an independent Institutional Review Board that reviews all of our recruitment and test procedures to ensure that we are protecting the rights and welfare of the participants in our studies, and that the studies are conducted in an ethical manner. We also collaborate with Product Management and Marketing so that the data and results are accurately reflected in any product claims, marketing, trainings, and patient and professional materials.
AudiologyOnline: You mentioned your research participants? Do you test them at your headquarters in Eden Prairie, MN?
Michelle Hicks, PhD: Yes! We have extensive laboratory and clinical space within our Tech Center on Starkey’s campus in Eden Prairie, MN. Adult participants from the local community, representing a full range of hearing losses, ages, and lifestyles, work in partnership with our researchers to provide feedback and data on the benefits of our newest signal processing algorithms, healthable technologies, smart sensors, and intelligent assistant features. We balance laboratory sessions with real-world, field evaluations to fully assess the features and products in a variety of environments and conditions. Participants are paid for their time, as is typical for most research studies, but they do not get to keep the hearing aids that they evaluate. We strive to minimize any potential bias they may have when providing feedback on their experiences. Their insightful and thoughtful input is then provided back to the engineering teams to refine and improve the final features and products that eventually go to clinicians – our participants are truly some of our best assets in research and development.
AudiologyOnline: What are the different types of studies being done at Starkey?
Michelle Hicks, PhD: Studies at Starkey take a variety of forms and serve different purposes. Early in development, new algorithm studies may involve normal-hearing participants listening under headphones, while fine-tuning parameters for optimal sound quality and performance. Later in development, our research audiologists are fitting the latest hearing aids in a clinic environment, evaluating safety, usability, and performance of the full hearing aid system, including mobile apps and accessories. With the use of sensors in Starkey hearing aids and the availability of healthable features designed to support overall health and wellness, you might also find our researchers in the gym counting steps as participants walk on a treadmill, ride a bike or simulate falling on mats to evaluate the next generation in activity tracking or fall detection.
AudiologyOnline: Are there any recent white papers or articles on your research and where can professionals find them?
Michelle Hicks, PhD: I’d like to have Lori Rakita, AuD, our Director of Clinical Research, provide this final answer. Dr. Rakita came to Starkey less than one year ago to lead the Clinical and Audiology Research Team, and in that time has led the team to produce some outstanding research in support of the Evolv AI product family. Dr. Rakita, can you describe some of the recent studies with Evolv AI and where professionals can go to learn more?
Lori Rakita, AuD: Thank you, Dr. Hicks. It has been so exciting to join such a talented group of researchers here at Starkey. The level of close collaboration between team members within Clinical and Audiology Research allows for a synergistic approach to research – combining expertise on early development of features with expertise on the customer groups we serve. Evolv AI really brought this research process to life, and the team has produced a tremendous amount of credible research to fully investigate and demonstrate the key aspects of the Evolv AI product family.
Professionals can go to StarkeyPro.com (https://starkeypro.com/research/publications/full-publication-list) to read about this work and can check back as it is updated with new research. You will see a wide range of studies on Evolv AI features, but also on topics that are designed to inform our professionals on how to best meet the needs of their patient populations. For example, recent studies on telecoils, and future studies on listening effort are pushing the boundaries of traditional product research to fully inform and support providers and individuals with hearing loss.