Mr. Austin is a past president of the International Hearing Society and the president and CEO of Willoughby Hearing Aid Centers in Oregon and Washington.
Over twenty years ago, I found myself sitting in a large banquet room at the Crown Plaza Holiday Inn in Rockville, MD. For hours, I listed to testimony as group after group presented their stories about the importance of changing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s 1977 hearing aid rule.
For those of you who are new to our industry, I think it's important that you know where our industry has gone over the past two decades.
But, it's not about me.
The FDA, under then commissioner David A. Kessler, MD, published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in 1993, presenting for discussion major changes that would greatly affect the hearing healthcare of our country.
Rumor had it that Dr. Kessler's mother had bought hearing aids and wasn't satisfied with her purchase. A very negative 60 Minutes report on unscrupulous hearing aid dealers had also aired, causing great confusion and distrust among people seeking amplification for hearing loss.
At the FDA meeting, I listened to testimony from the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (then the Academy of Dispensing Audiologists), American Academy of Audiology, American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, American Speech–Language–Hearing Association, Hearing Loss Association of America (then Self Help for Hard of Hearing People), International Hearing Society (IHS), the mail-order hearing aid company Lloyd's, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the public about what was wrong with the way Americans received hearing healthcare.
While they all had good arguments as to how and why their ideas might improve hearing aid dispensing, I realized that every group fighting for gatekeeper status should work together and focus their passions on the people we all serve. When less than 25 percent of those who could benefit from our products and services take advantage of them, collectively we are doing a very poor job.
After ten years of the FDA gathering input, posturing professional associations spending millions of dollars, and untreated hearing loss rates rising as the baby boomers aged, the FDA closed the rule with no significant changes made.
Today, I'm afraid we are beginning another battle toward the same result. As IHS begins the Fit to Serve campaign to help treat American veterans, I'm reading blogs about other organizations gearing up to beat them down and accusatory e-mail chains about deceptive backdoor legislation being used to mislead licensing boards. It's déjà vu all over again. Enough is enough.
As a business leader who employs AuDs and board-certified hearing instrument specialists, I can testify that it takes all of us working together to serve the people who need us most.
Now is a time to seek common ground and join forces to help the millions of Americans who are living in quiet worlds. I, too, encourage each of you to join your professional associations and guide your leaders to work together on this goal.
As music producer Jimmy Iovine said in a January Esquire interview, “I have friends that have a hundred times more money than I have. But they don't have peace. They're quick at the draw, ready to fight, ready to go. The thing about seeing the big picture and being self-aware is knowing that it's not about you. It's about the big picture. It's not about you. It's not. This is not about you.”