Objectives: To identify patient-reported barriers and facilitators to using smartphone-connected hearing aids, using the Behavior Change Wheel (BCW) to understand experiences and how these can be addressed.
Design: A single-center, prospective, observational study. Eight hearing aid users (new = 1, existing = 7; mean age = 71.75 years, SD = 5.23, range = 65 to 81 years) were identified through convenience sampling from 44 participants who took part in a 7-week evaluation of smartphone-connected hearing aids controlled by a prototype app. The app allowed users to manually control settings such as gain, noise reduction, and microphone directionality, preset, and customized programmes. Participants were assigned to one of two focus groups following trial of the app.
Results: Focus group transcripts were thematically analyzed and underpinned by the COM-B (Capability, Opportunity, Motivation-Behavior) model and Theoretical Domains Framework to identify barriers and facilitators to using smartphone-connected hearing aids (the target behavior). Mapping of themes to the BCW allowed use of the Behavior Change Technique Taxonomy (version 1) to identify behavior change techniques that audiologists could implement in clinical practice to address the barriers and facilitators. Capability: The app increased participants' knowledge of hearing aid controls, encouraging use of the app for improved hearing loss self-management. However, barriers to using the app included perception of insufficient digital literacy skills for smartphone-connected hearing aid use and an increased cognitive load caused by decisions over which controls to use. Opportunity: Perceived smartphone norms (i.e., acceptable occasions to use smartphones) and differing listening contexts acted as both facilitators and barriers. Motivation: The ability to control hearing aid settings in any listening situation (e.g., to reduce noise) empowered users to successfully self-manage their hearing loss, leading to greater confidence and participation in everyday life. The app also reduced hearing aid-related and self-stigma, and the ability to self-adjust hearing aids benefitted both participants and communication partners. It was the adjustability and interaction afforded by the app that empowered users, rather than the hearing aid technology itself. Perceived beliefs and knowledge about digital literacy skills, and specifically abilities to use a smartphone, were perceived to be barriers in this typically older population, particularly when they compared themselves to younger generations. Using the Behavior Change Technique Taxonomy (version 1), behavior change techniques that could be used by audiologists to address these barriers included enablement, goal setting, reframing perceptions toward technology, and addressing patient educational needs.
Conclusions: Smartphone-connected hearing aids, when used in their everyday lives, were viewed positively by participants across a range of domains, empowering them and enabling hearing loss self-management. Audiologists should consider smartphone-connected hearing aid candidacy for all who have access to smartphones and are willing to use one. Use of the BCW has identified that modifiable barriers to using smartphone-connected hearing aids exist. Audiologists could use these evidence-based behavior change techniques to support patients in adopting and using these technologies to successfully self-manage hearing loss. Overall, by reframing smartphone technologies as a tool to remain connected with society, smartphone-connected hearing aids could shift the power of managing hearing loss from clinician to patient.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03674086.
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