Hearing Aid Acquisition Changing at the Speed of Sound
Professions, professionals, and protocols change. For example, only a few years ago, many professionals would have said the Internet and direct mail acquisition of hearing aids has not impacted their practice, and further, many professionals refused to help patients who purchased their hearing aids online. It’s changed.
Kochkin (2014) reported the largest analysis and comparison of hearing aids obtained through the Internet (and delivered to the patient via direct mail), compared to traditional hearing aid acquisition routes (involving an audiologist or dispenser). More than 2,300 people who obtained amplification via Internet/direct mail responded. Among the key findings were that the Internet/direct mail customer paid approximately $300 per hearing aid, whereas the traditional-route patient paid approximately $1,500 per unit. Both patient groups report wearing their instrument 9 hours daily, and they report similar satisfaction ratings, perceived benefit and sound quality. Not surprisingly, those who purchased through the Internet/direct mail rated their purchase higher with regard to value.
Mueller and Cox (2014) ask, "Can audiologists continue to use the dispensing model that has served them well for nearly 40 years?" They note that "bundled" hearing aid pricing models (i.e., equipment and services are bundled together into one final price) are used by some 85 percent of audiologists. However, things do change. Dr. Cox notes that "by bundling your services together with the product, you are sending the message that your services are not worth paying for. As a result, the value of your services tends to become invisible to the consumer, and perhaps to yourself as well." She reports that "this has to change."
Dr. Cox reports that in order to meet upcoming challenges, audiologists will have to change the way they do things, or they risk fading away. She notes that patients in 2014 are more tech savvy than their parents and clearly the stage is set for "disruptive innovation." For example, several manufacturers offer apps to turn smart phones into hearing aids, and smart phones can be used as remotes, too. Beyond the Internet, big-box retailers such as Costco offer low prices and efficiency—and the consumer is aware of the differences. Today’s consumer is not afraid to seek information they are unfamiliar with. Further personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are very inexpensive, easily obtained everywhere, and range in quality from terrible to pretty reasonable.
Dr. Cox notes that one PSAP (previously available at Best Buy) featured 16 bands/channels, digital noise reduction, volume control, telephone coil and a speech enhancement circuit. She reviewed a study by Breitbart and colleagues (2014) in which premium hearing aids, basic hearing aids, and PSAPs were compared. They used two devices in each category (premium, basic, PSAP) for a total of six devices, evaluated by 20 adult listeners in a round robin protocol using a variety of listening tasks (see article for details). In essence, for speech, the two hearing aids (basic and premium) were preferred over the PSAPs. However, no significant differences were found when music or everyday sounds were listened to. Of note, premium hearing aid devices were not preferred over basic hearing aid devices with any sound source.
Dr. Cox states that audiologists must restore their professional image rather than reinforcing their current image as diagnostic techs and hearing aid sales people. Audiologists must be viewed as helping people manage their hearing and hearing loss in their daily lives and to assess real-life hearing, listening, balance, and communication difficulties as well as the need to offer the complete spectrum of solutions/treatments available (including hearing aids, PSAPs, ALDS, aural rehabilitation, and more). Further, she reports providing a "longer menu" of solutions and treatments, specifically tailored to the individual patient, will facilitate growth in the profession.
For More Information, References, and Recommendations
Breitbart D, Xu J, Johnson J, Cox R. (2014) Is There a Preference Between Hearing Aids and Personal Sound Amplification products (PSAPs). Hearing Aid Research Lab, Memphis.
Kochkin S. (2014) A Comparison of Consumer Satisfaction, Subjective Benefit and Quality of Life Changes Associated with Traditional and Direct-Mail Hearing Aid Use. The Hearing Review January:16–26.
Kochkin S, Beck DL, Christensen DL, Compton-Conley C, Fligor BJ, Kricos PB, McSpaden JB, Mueller GH, Nilsson MJ, Northern JL, Powers TA, Sweetow RW, Taylor B, Turner RG. (2010) MarkeTrak VIII – The Impact of the Hearing Healthcare Professional on Hearing Aid User Success. The Hearing Review April.
Mueller GH, Cox R. (2014) 20 Questions – Hearing Aid Provision and the Challenge of Change. Audiology Online.