I have been in the hearing industry most of my life — you could say it raised me. From my earliest memories as a child, to 1994 when I started at Starkey Hearing Technologies, and through today, the importance of hearing health is ingrained in me and continues to shape my decisions.
As technology, generational expectations and distribution channels evolve, the hearing industry continues to change along with them. Today, innovative technology is a large piece of the hearing health puzzle, making hearing aid options more abundant than ever. Gone are the days of bulky hearing aids.
Because each ear is designed differently and is as unique as a fingerprint, hearing aids need to be designed to fit many complex components. With recent advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence and integrated sensors, a hearing aid can now be so advanced that it will assist someone in daily life, without them even realizing it.
Because of this innovative technology, improved sound quality and access to highly trained hearing professionals, people are now proudly wearing their hearing aids. In fact, 93 percent of people properly fit by a hearing professional are satisfied with their hearing aids.
But the best-quality care does not solely come from sophisticated technology. In fact, it starts with the trained hearing professionals who work directly with patients and consumers.
With this ever-advancing industry, we must continue to prioritize proper education for patients and consumers to ensure that they receive the best-quality care for the best quality of life. With the insurgence of new products in the industry, there are options everywhere, and there are even many hearing tests available online.
If a patient’s priority is cost-savings, there are plenty of options; however, with affordability usually comes a sacrifice of trust, quality or service — or all three. A trained professional and quality product is the most reliable method to getting accurate, long-lasting results.
With all of these changes, it begs the question: What’s next for our industry? In 2017, a bill touting “affordable and accessible hearing aids” was passed to allow over-the-counter hearing aids to come to market. The bill is now working its way through the Food and Drug Administration rulemaking process and will likely be ready sometime in 2020.
From my involvement with Capitol Hill and government agencies, I have come to learn that most companies, agencies, political offices, staff and the general public are not properly informed about the hearing health care model and process. Low-cost, cheaply made hearing aids have been around for decades in catalog sales, large retailers and online, but these products are not the answer for many patients.
For the safety of the patient, we should not lower our standards of quality to confuse and anger people looking for hearing help — all in the name of revenue. When profit is prioritized over people, no one wins and, more importantly, few people are actually helped.
OTC hearing aids may be a step in the right direction, and I know that they provide some patients in need with some ease to their struggles. That being said, we should be educating people not only on low-cost solutions but on the overall health benefit to proper hearing screening, personalized fitting and the service and care that come with every hearing aid fit by a professional. Impersonal products only further disadvantage an already disadvantaged population.
With aging individuals particularly struggling with hearing loss, they deserve quality attention and continued care. Many outside analysts, health experts and even some large consumer electronic companies look at the hearing aid industry and read about the low penetration rate of people with hearing loss not buying hearing aids. Immediately, they assume this industry is not maximizing the potential.
That assumption brings in industry disruptors who enter the market with do-it-yourself assessments and cheaper products. This then leads to a spike in annual hearing aid sales overnight. However, these disruptors almost always overlook three simple words: service and care.
This lack of foresight is typically their downfall and the reason they end up changing their model or leaving the industry. We are in a great industry, full of healthy competition and technology, which pushes all of us to innovate for the betterment of the aging population who needs more of what we provide.
There isn’t a better time to be in our industry, as a manufacturer or as a hearing professional. Innovative technology is bringing us new hearing technologies, software, apps, accessories and services to help more people reconnect with their loved ones. With these continuing developments, however, we must never forget the heart of our industry: the patients.
Healthy hearing is best personalized and served through a hearing professional. Better hearing can never be compromised through an easy way. Hearing loss leads to performance issues, social isolation and, recent studies indicate, poor brain health.
Patients deserve our very best with the human touch.
Brandon Sawalich is president of Starkey Hearing Technologies.
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