We have been in private practice for 30 plus years and have seen more than our share of “disruptors.” These have included ITE aids; programmable, digital, big box store dispensing, mail order hearing aids, and the rise of insurance coverage for hearing aids. In theory, any of these could have had a dramatic effect on market penetration. In reality, none have had a significant effect.
Now, we are all concerned about the rise of PSAPs. This is nothing new if you've been reading magazines that advertise inexpensive speech “clarifiers” for years. If price were the issue, we would all have been out of business long ago.
Of bigger interest to us has been the research coming out of Johns Hopkins, describing auditory deprivation, or “use it or lose it.” This research, combined with new research on the effects of amplification on auditory function over time, will be the real determiners of the PSAP vs. hearing aid debate.
If consistent use of amplification is a prerequisite to healthy brain function as one ages, then the idea of a “part time” solution is untenable, at best. The issue can't be related to size or price. Manufacturers argue that they have “real” hearing aids that would retail below $300. The real issues, to us, relate to professional evaluation, prequalification of the patient and family for the level of technology recommended, fitting and programming expertise, extensive counseling, patient and family education, and a program of systematic care that includes monitoring of hearing aid use and hearing levels using data logging. All of this requires time, overhead expense, education, and a professional commitment that costs money.
Hopefully, we are not headed back to the ASHA-inspired days when audiologists could not dispense hearing aids because profit was associated with ethical sin. “Margins,” the dirty word referred to in the article, allow for these professional evaluation and fitting services. Do we really think that patients can select and successfully use their own technology type? Our experience would indicate that they cannot.
PAMELA BURTON, AUD
Vice President of Product Management & Customer Care, Signia
As more PSAPs enter the market, it's critical that the hearing aid industry continues to educate the public on the vast differences between PSAPs and FDA-approved hearing aids. Manufacturers collectively have hundreds of years of experience researching and developing safe, well-designed, and highly sophisticated hearing solutions that effectively treat almost any kind of hearing loss. But it's more than just expertise that separates hearing aids from PSAPs.
Successfully treating hearing loss involves stimulating the auditory neural pathways leading up to and including the brain. This is most effective when hearing aids are fit by a licensed hearing care professional trained in facilitating aural rehabilitation. No evidence exists that consumers can proficiently self-diagnose or self-treat hearing loss. This is demonstrated by a 39 percent hearing aid satisfaction rate http://ow.ly/aWtx300THC1 in Japan, where patients can purchase them directly, vs. a 90 percent satisfaction rate in the U.S. for new hearing aids under the guidance of a professional.
Manufacturers are moving beyond the ear to study how hearing loss affects the brain, in particular how hearing aids can address cognitive functions like listening effort. Hearing difficulties increase cognitive load, resulting in listening fatigue, multi-tasking difficulty, lack of energy and concentration, and increased risk of falls. Unlike PSAPs, only professionally fit hearing aids have been proven to address the consequences of listening fatigue http://ow.ly/W9lB300THOb by reducing listening effort.
Hearing aid manufacturers have developed smart hearing technology to effectively treat more patients than ever. Patients with special listening needs require far more sophisticated technology than the simple amplification most PSAPs provide.
The emergence of PSAPs has some positive implications. More manufacturers are developing essential-level technology with adaptive directionality, frequency compression, and even wireless streaming capabilities. Consumer dissatisfaction with PSAPs is also an opportunity for professionals to demonstrate the important role they play by providing diagnostic testing and premium customer service. Although PSAPs may have helped to highlight the importance of healthy hearing, the correct path to treatment is always through the hearing care professional.
Director of Hearing Aid Battery Technology, Rayovac
Advancements in hearing device technology have allowed hearing professionals to personalize devices in ways that drastically improve the hearing health of their patients. There is a world of possibilities that opens up as hearing aids become more prevalent and connected. I think we're only on the edge of what wireless capabilities can bring to hearing instruments. There's a lot more to see now that the technology exists.
As this technology spreads and advances, hearing devices will require more and more battery power to operate the stable of features they provide. Improvement in battery performance and runtimes is key.
Consumers are seeking innovative devices, but many are unaware of the specific qualities and features that will most benefit their unique hearing needs. They also are likely unaware of how these features may impact the performance of their hearing aid battery. It's crucial for hearing professionals and device manufacturers to remain at the forefront of industry trends and technology.
Audiologists and dispensers have the unique ability to provide a better solution for people, to be sure that the devices are truly making a difference on their hearing and in their lives—that's really the big difference and the big opportunity for hearing professionals and manufacturers.Copyright © 2016 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.