Telemedicine for Patients with Unilateral Sudden Hearing Loss in the COVID-19 Era

Shahaf Shilo*, Omer J. Ungar, Ophir Handzel, Rani Abu Eta, Udi Shapira, Nidal Muhanna, Yahav Oron

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Importance: Developing a telemedicine tool to discriminate between patients who need urgent treatment for sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) from those who do not takes on special importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Objective: To explore the feasibility of a telemedicine model to assist in the evaluation of new-onset unilateral sudden hearing loss (SHL) among patients who do not have access to medical resources, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective cohort investigation of a telemedicine model was conducted at a tertiary referral medical center between May 2020 and January 2021, with the interpreting physician blinded to the results of formal audiograms. The study included a consecutive sample of adult patients (aged ≥18 years) referred to the otolaryngology emergency department in our medical center with the chief complaint of new-onset unilateral SHL. Interventions: The telemedicine model comprised 2 sequential steps: A Weber test using the Hum Test and a smartphone-based vibration, and uHear app-based audiometry. Main Outcomes and Measures: Discrimination between patients with and without SSNHL by using the telemedicine model. All diagnoses subsequently confirmed by a formal audiogram. Results: Fifty-one patients with new-onset unilateral SHL participated in the study study (median age, 45 [range, 18-76] years; 28 [54.9%] men). The sensitivity and specificity of the telemedicine model for fulfilling the audiometric criteria of SSNHL (loss of ≥30 dB in ≥3 consecutive frequencies) were 100% (95% CI, 84%-100%) and 73% (95% CI, 54%-88%), respectively. The PPV was 72% (95% CI, 53%-87%), the NPV was 100% (95% CI, 85%-100%), and the accuracy was 84.3% (95% CI, 71%-93%). Although 8 participants had false-positive results, all of them had SSNHL that did not meet the full audiometric criteria. Conclusions and Relevance: The telemedicine model presented in this study for the diagnosis of SSNHL is valid and reliable. It may serve as a primary tool for the discrimination between patients in need of urgent care for SSNHL from those who are not, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-172
Number of pages7
JournalJAMA Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
Volume148
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2022

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