The first telefitting session between Africa and Europe – Poland as a leader in using telemedicine for modern treatment of patients with hearing impairments

On August 26, in Dakar, Senegal, the first telefitting took place, that is, remote adjustment of the speech processor by specialists from Poland from the Institute of Physiology and Pathology of Hearing and the International Center of Hearing and Speech Medincus in Kajetany. The patient taking part in teleconsultations was a 7-year-old boy from Senegal with congenital hearing loss who in 2016 was operated in the Clinic in Kajetany. The telefitting system is a unique on a global scale solution of remote adjustment of cochlear implants ensuring greater availability of treatment for patients with hearing impairments and more effective rehabilitation. 

An interdisciplinary team of doctors and engineers participated in the first connection between Poland and Africa  via the telefitting system. In Dakar the consultation was conducted by Aissa Diaga Ngom, an audiologist from Senegal under the guidance of Polish specialists – Associate Professor Piotr H. Skarżyński, M.D., Ph. D., and Łukasz Bruski, D.H.S., while in Poland the session was supervised by specialists from the World Hearing Center and International Center of Hearing and Speech Medincus.

During the visit of the Polish delegation in Senegal, they also met with local specialists to discuss including the center in Dakar to the world’s first Teleaudiology Network. The National Teleaudiology Network is a system  covering telerehabilitation, telefitting, tele-education, screening, telediagnostics in Europe, Asia and Africa, created in 2009 in the IFPS, currently it comprises 24 telemedicine stations. The development of contacts with Senegal was possible thanks to the reopening of the Polish embassy and a branch of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency in Dakar.

Telefitting allows patients to undergo remote hearing rehabilitation. Patients no longer have to go to the hospital every few months. It is enough that they come to a center closest to the place of their residence, integrated by means of a teleconference system with the Clinic in Kajetany. Several thousand patients use telemedicine solutions every year. Thanks to the telefitting system, the visit is basically no different from a checkup in person, except that the patient and the doctor see each other on the screen. The use of the best, improved over years remote methods of fitting and rehabilitation bring tangible benefits – saving time and money for patients, and better use of time of medical personnel.

For the best results in terms of hearing improvement after the cochlear implantation, it is necessary to provide the patient with well-organized, long-term post-operative care. Hearing rehabilitation is a long-term and labor-intensive process that requires a lot of commitment, comprehensive knowledge, experience and continuity. One of the most important tasks covered by this care is the optimal fitting of the auditory implant. It is necessary for the proper transmission of surrounding sounds, including speech, to the patient’s auditory path.

Specialists from the World Hearing Center with the help of trained staff from a local center, can carry out all the necessary medical examinations, measurements and consultations, while a clinical engineer, from his office in Kajetany, can take control of the remote computer and reprogram the patient’s speech processor taking into account the results of measurements. The internet allows the Center’s specialists to organize a teleconference enabling auditory and visual contact of the patient with the support staff, and the remote desktop software allows you to take control of the remote computer to perform measurements and fitting.

Telefitting is safe, reliable and very welcome both by patients and specialists. Parameters of electrical stimulation obtained during telefitting do not differ from the values obtained during a traditional fitting in direct contact with the patient. This means that this system gives a doctor a new, extremely efficient tool to control past treatment and further rehabilitation of the patient.

– Conducting rehabilitation with the use of a telefitting system is yet another implemented model of cooperation between Poland and Africa. We are trying to promote the teleconsultation system, which we have already launched jointly with Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, on African markets. It allows you to perform specific medical activities, check equipment and conduct rehabilitation via the internet, i.e. remotely. We are also trying to establish an umbrella organization and affiliates with local specialists who will join our telemedicine sessions to carry out a common diagnosis of patients – says Associate Prof. Piotr H. Skarżyński, M.D., Ph. D., from the World Hearing Center.

Polish otolaryngologists during a long-term cooperation with specialists from African countries received proposals for joint scientific and research works. Initially, we managed to organize hearing screening tests in Ghana, Cameroon, Morocco, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Tanzania, Senegal and Rwanda.  African specialists also come to Poland to gain knowledge offered by the Polish school of otolaryngology in the field of diagnostics, treatment and hearing rehabilitation. They are interested in our clinical practices, and want to follow the Polish model and experiences.

Cooperation in therapy and rehabilitation of patients also gives the opportunity to study diseases at a very advanced stage, no longer prevalent in Poland due to the high level of our medicine. In Africa, the scale of problems and challenges are different. It is often believed that hearing loss is a natural and imminent condition. However, the constantly growing awareness that hearing loss can be cured motivates to help the patients and use the knowledge and solutions offered by modern medicine and telemedicine.