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The Ultimate Beta Test Subject: Me

Friends, family, colleagues, and business associates know me to be an inveterate tinkerer with those things technological. When it comes to electronics and software (and food), I like to play. I’m always looking for the plugin or application that will just make whatever it is I’m doing a little bit smarter, a little bit more efficient, a little better. I’m willing to take risks, and of course, sometimes spend lots of hours recovering from my experiments. Most of the time, I discover some great stuff along the way (which I am happy to share, which is kind of the point of this blog).

The latest experimental subject in Mr. Schiff’s Laboratory is me, specifically my hearing (or ever decreasing lack there of). We discovered my hearing loss when I was a teenager, but at the time it wasn’t considered severe enough to worry much about, just something to be watched. Years of playing loud electric guitar in bands along with lots of rock-n-roll shows (e.g. Hot Tuna in the 70’s)  didn’t help the inevitable degradation of my hearing. When I last had my hearing checked 7 years ago the ENT believed I would need a very visible type hearing aid to cover the spectrum I needed augmented, and vanity got the better of me. I decided to live without until the technology improved.

Seven years is a long time in the technology world…

The October issue of Inc. Magazine ran a story that I came upon called “The Future of the Human Body,” which told of a continuous-wear hearing devices (as in you don’t take them out, and you can’t see them) from InSound Medical, Inc. marketed under the name Lyric. Given who I am and the business I am in, this was very intriguing to me. The healthcare entrepreneur in me was excited by their subscriptionized business model (you don’t buy these devices), as one would continually have access to upgrades (and of course the whoe recurring revenue thing). From a product and technology standpoint, this was definitely not your grandmother’s hearing aid. I was intrigued enough to do a bit of googling. In the process I discovered Dane Ashworth’s Blog where he details his trial (and experiments), along with excellent insights on this first 18 months with the devices. Soon I was off to make an appointment to see if a trial was doable for me.

My 30-day period started last Thursday (12/10/2009). I’m going to see how far the technology has come for those with hearing loss like mine (high end in both ears).

How Lyric Works

Technically these are hearing aids, but if any of you have seen me in the last week, you would not have noticed at all (except for the fact that I didn’t ask you to repeat yourself when there were competing sounds in the room). These remarkable little devices were placed in my ear canals by at a local ENT office and I’ve been wearing them 24-hours a day since. At night I put them to sleep via a small magnetic controller device (I also did this when the vacuuming from the cleaning crew got to me). Should I continue with these devices after the trial is over, I’m likely to not have them taken out until the devices get replaced for 3-4 months (that’s how long the batteries last).

What Lyric looks like from the outside

It’s one thing to play geek with my laptop, or a home-brew streaming music server, another when one starts experimenting with one’s own body (and I’m not talking piercing or tattoos here). In ways I didn’t expect, this is surprisingly a bigger leap than I imagined before doing it. They are by no means uncomfortable. I’m just hyper aware that I’m on technology assist mode and know that I have something artificial inside my body (I’ve been told that I will get over this soon).

In the medical device realm; Lyric Hearing is by no means bleeding edge, or frankly that experimental. Lyric was launched commercially in January 2007. Prior to commercialization, Lyric was used by hundreds of clinical research patients beginning in 2001. While I’m not sure where I will be after 30 days, my early read is that these folks have this thing pretty well nailed, and if not this generation, the next has the potential to break out.

The natural technology approach that InSound is taking is a phenomenal catapult forward, where technology is there, but is in the background. Pacemakers and contact lenses are part of this, as are artificial knees and hips. Those with more severe disabilities have been aided by prosthesis for a long time, but this generation of devices is part of a very rapid expansion of the horizons for assistive technologies into the mainstream that was previously not possible.

There’s lots more to say about all of this and I will write more about my experience in future posts.

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