Revolutionary 3D Printed Hearing Aid Marks a Milestone in Veteran Care

March 25, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. (Photo by Dan McCue)

CHARLESTON, S.C.- The VA says that a recent approval granted to them for a 3D printed hearing aid is an early step in establishing a way to provide inexpensive, patient-led care for veterans that suffer from unique maladies. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted the “compassionate use” authorization to the VA in February, for use of a medical device developed in connection with their 3D printing network. 

An unnamed 76-year-old U.S. Army veteran, the patient for whom the device was developed, suffered from a rare form of progressive hearing loss with no off-the-shelf treatment solution, the VA told The Well News. 

The cartilage in the veteran’s ear was too soft, causing it to collapse in on itself, and muting the sound that got to his inner ear.

The veteran’s provider reached out to the new Charleston 3D Innovation Center to see if there was a way it could help, which is what started this collaboration, the VA said.

That veteran made a device from drinking straws, which VA Audiologist Dr. Kent Flanagan and 3D Printing Engineer Nicole Beitenman were eventually able to turn into a workable model. 

Total costs for the device included “several hours” of the VA’s engineering and regulatory teams and $10 in 3D printing prototyping materials. The VA reported that the materials used in the final device cost less than one dollar. 

Since the device was announced, people who believe that they also may be able to benefit from this device have reached out to the VA.

The VA says that this is part of establishing a “repeatable pathway” to them being able to offer patient-matched solutions to American veterans.

“Hopefully, this is just the first in a long line of patient-matched devices for veterans that meet needs that are not addressed by off-the-shelf commercial products,” a statement said.

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