By Brandon Sawalich
March 17, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
We are one year into a global health crisis. At the start of 2020, I said the greatest decade in the hearing industry was ahead of us, and I still believe this is true. Not in spite of what happened in 2020 — but because of it. In 2020, more people learned what we in the hearing industry have known all along: hearing health is essential.
As a hearing aid manufacturer, Starkey has had a front-row seat to the evolution that’s taken place in hearing health care this past year. While our company prides itself on being a partner to hearing professionals around the world, that role took on a whole new meaning when the pandemic started. We shifted to helping hearing health care professionals become experts in everything from PPP to PPE, helping clinics set up telehealth and curb-side services. Our priority was singular: keep hearing professionals’ offices safely open so they could help people.
Innovation is a mindset. And it was one we all had to embrace because of what happened next.
As the virus settled into every corner of the globe, our society went virtual, masks covered up important visual speech cues, and people withdrew from their communities more than ever before. Communication became more difficult for everyone. Now, imagine you’re one of the 48 million Americans with hearing loss. For many, the world was simply cut off. All at a time when being connected and staying informed on important health and news updates was so important.
During the pandemic, many people realized for the first time that their hearing was a problem. Others who knew they had hearing loss couldn’t ignore it anymore. When everyone was talking about “essential workers,” hearing professionals were finally part of that conversation. Hearing is a social issue. It is an overall health and wellness issue. It is a global issue. And now, people are beginning to realize hearing is essential.
The hearing industry is now faced with a new opportunity to educate the world about the importance of treating hearing loss. More than 450 million people around the globe have hearing loss. By 2050, that number will be close to one billion. The hearing industry has to evolve to meet their needs.
The pandemic has accelerated the concept of the digital patient. People want three things: care, convenience and control. The use of telehealth has skyrocketed this year and is the future direction of our industry. It’s not only acceptable as a way to treat patients, but often this form of connected health is actually preferred. Hearing loss patients will be able to connect with their providers and troubleshoot issues in real time.
The digital patient is also telling us what they want in terms of technology. They want a hearing aid that does more than help them hear better; it must help them live better, too. People are expecting more and more out of their technology — and as a leader of hearing technology and innovation, it’s our job to stay one step ahead.
This cutting-edge hearing technology is also having another effect: removing the stigma around wearing hearing aids. With hearing loss linked to other health issues like dementia and cognitive decline, isolation and even cardiovascular disease, treating hearing loss early is vital. But prompting someone to get that help isn’t easy if people associate these devices with advanced age. Technology is removing that barrier, making hearing aids not just a need-to-own device but one that people actually want to have.
Like any medtech leader, when the pandemic started, I was concerned that innovation would slow down. I thought about what would come next and how our industry would lead, adapt and thrive. But no matter what industry you are in, COVID-19 presented all of us with a choice: Are you going to be disrupted or are you going to be the disruptor?
Innovation cannot sleep, especially during a pandemic. What has sustained Starkey goes back to that singular purpose: helping people. In my 26 years in this industry, it always comes back to that. You must stay true to your purpose of helping others and always continue looking forward. And this is why I know 2020 was the start of the hearing industry’s greatest decade.
As president and CEO of Starkey and chairman of the Hearing Industries Association’s Board of Directors, Brandon Sawalich is pushing the hearing industry to revolutionize hearing health care through technological advancements, bold thinking and building high-performing teams — leading the industry into a new decade of innovation.
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