Access to Better Ear Care In WA’s Remote Communities Wins Award

Ear Science Institute Australia’s researcher Chris Brennan-Jones has won the Premier’s Exxonmobil Student Scientist of the Year Award for his work to improve access to critical ear health assessments in Western Australia’s remote and regional areas.

Chris Brennan-Jones was first exposed to the difficulties in accessing ear care for remote patients when he participated in Ear Science Institute Australia’s community program to the Pilbara to provide access to Ear Nose and Throat specialists.

“With around 70% of the children suffering from ear disease in the community we visited, I was greatly affected by the impact this had on their lives,” Mr Brennan-Jones stated.

“Their parents and teachers would comment on how their children who had issues with their ears had become withdrawn and stopped participating in school activities. As a father myself, this really struck a chord with me and I was compelled to find a way to help.”

As a prominent researcher at Perth’s world-renowned Ear Science Institute Australia, Mr Brennan-Jones was in a unique position to help and began his research into finding more effective and efficient ways to provide access to ear care in remote communities.

“The isolation of communities in remote and regional Australia means a lack of access to medical professionals and the level of medical facilities available in our major cities. My goal was to find a way to provide this access to Australians, regardless of where they lived and with the rapidly increasing level of technology with smartphones and computers, they became an obvious avenue to investigate.”

Mr Brennan-Jones commenced his research by identifying how to use automated hearing tests to provide key data on a person or child’s hearing health. Through the support of Ear Science Institute Australia, he was able to commence a research project and access equipment through a device donation by Sweet Melodies’ Navrang event. He began comparing the automated hearing test results to the clinical protocols upheld by Ear Science Institute Australia’s Lions Hearing Clinics qualified audiologists.

“We were able to ascertain that the results were accurate. However we still required a specialist audiologist to be part of the process to decipher the results and provide treatment recommendations,” Mr Brennan-Jones stated.

“It was imperative that qualified audiologists were still part of the process, so the next hurdle was how to provide this expertise when audiologists are scarce in these communities.”
In order to provide this level of care, Mr Brennan-Jones examined a system where data collected via automated testing was emailed and reviewed by an audiologist who would provide expert advice.

Once it was determined that the devices could provide accurate testing and that audiologists can review this data and provide expert clinical advice whilst hundreds of kilometres away from the patient, the next stage was how to engage the local communities to perform the automated testing and act upon the recommended treatments.

Mr Brennan-Jones worked closely with key persons within the remote communities and Ear Science Institute Australia’s researchers to identify how to train keen local community members to perform the automated testing, send results and provide treatments. Whilst those patients requiring medical assistance or surgical intervention were not suitable, the majority of patients could potentially be treated by simple solutions that the local trained representative could administer.

Ear Science Institute Australia’s Chief Executive Officer Mrs Sandra Bellekom stated “I am so proud of Chris Brennan-Jones. He has fully embraced our vision here at Ear Science to enhance the lives of people with ear and hearing disorders.”

“By providing the ability to access our world-class Lions Hearing Clinic audiologists to those who would have limited or no access to them in their own community, he has established a way to make a difference in our remote communities and truly ensure his research is translational.”

Last night, Mr Brennan-Jones was awarded the Premier’s Exxonmobil Student Scientist of the Year Award for his research project. After receiving the award, Mr Brennan-Jones stated “I would like to thank all of the people who assisted in this project to help those in remote and regional areas access to care.”

“In particular, I would like to thank Ear Science Institute Australia for always supporting me and my work, Professors Robert Eikelboom, De Wet Swanepoel and Marcus Atlas for their supervision,

Lions Hearing Foundation, UWA, Sweet Melodies and especially to the people in the communities involved in the project for being so accepting of new ways and their willingness to provide a new level of ear health care to their friends, family and children.”

Mrs Sandra Bellekom stated after the awards, “Chris Brennan-Jones has once again proven that his research is imperative to furthering the cause of ear and hearing health. This year has been exceptional for him. He was recently awarded our Ear Science Institute Australia’s Gift of Hearing Fellowship which is a 3-year research appointment funded by our charity the Gift of Hearing

Appeal and now he has also been recognised by the Premier’s Award. We couldn’t be happier to have such a passionate and well-accomplished researcher as part of our institute and campaigning for better ear care for all individuals, regardless of their location in the world.”