It’s the kind of news that makes the hard of hearing heart beat faster.
No, there’s been no proclamation of National 50% Off Hearing Aids Day.
No announcement of a little pink pill that will make damaged cochlear hair cells spring back to life.
No scientific proof of a twice-daily mantra that will calm the neurons firing off tinnitus cannons in our heads.
It’s more like a climate change event, with the barometer rising in the world of hearing health care.
On June 2nd, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) issued what is considered a ground-breaking report: Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability. A powerhouse expert committee, comprised of members from all stakeholder groups, assessed the state of hearing health care, its affordability and accessibility for adults in the United States. The resulting study includes 12 recommendations that, if implemented, would bring hearing loss out of the shadows as a major and critical health and social issue. It would make it easier for a person with hearing loss to find and use high-quality, affordable services, technologies, and supports.
According to Brian Taylor’s recent article on HearingHealthMatters.org, responses from hearing health stakeholder groups have been varied, but they are united in saying that “the report makes hearing loss a national priority”.
The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) strongly supported the recommendations in a statement: “They clearly emphasize that the individual with hearing loss – the consumer – should be the primary focus in the provision of hearing health care. The findings in the report touch on almost every aspect of hearing health care, underscoring the fact that managing hearing loss not only requires far more than the technology of hearing aids, but also involves family and society as a whole.”
Improve population-based information on hearing loss and hearing health care
Develop and promote measures to assess and improve quality of hearing health care services
Remove the Food and Drug Administration’s Regulation for Medical Evaluation or Waiver
Empower consumers and patients in their use of hearing health care
Improve access to hearing health care for underserved and vulnerable populations
Promote hearing health care in wellness and medical visits for those with concerns about their hearing
Implement a new [FDA] device category for over-the-counter wearable hearing devices
Improve the compatibility and interoperability of hearing technologies with communications systems and the transparency of hearing aid programming
Improve affordability of hearing health care by actions across federal, state, and private sectors
Evaluate and implement innovative models of hearing health care to improve access, quality, and affordability
Improve publicly available information on hearing health
Promote individual, employer, private sector, and community-based actions to support and manage hearing health and effective communication
As a consumer advocate with hearing loss, these statements thrill me with their possibilities. I am, however, just a bit concerned about #7. I don’t believe that everybody requires the full-on hearing device with a hefty price tag. But while the OTC option is tantalizing, I also believe that anyone seeking hearing help should have some degree of professional evaluation. How do we balance this?
My other problem is that this is an American report and, although a member of HLAA, I’m Canadian. This report doesn’t fully address the reality of hearing health care delivery in my province or country. So, after gleefully jumping up and down for a couple of minutes, I thought, “Who’s reading this in Canada? And how are we going to get the same sort of pot-stirring report here? Who will step up?”
However, The Lancet, the renowned general medical journal, responded to the report, saying in part: “Although initially developed to inform hearing health care in the context of the USA, the report has global implications in terms of prevention and treatment, particularly when addressing hearing loss as an important global health challenge.”
Yes, hearing loss affects millions of people worldwide. And the 12 recommendations are not really new news. Consumers and professionals have been saying the same thing for years. Just not all of us. Together. At the same time. Our words have not been followed up with action at higher levels, with policies that have legs, teeth, and high-octane support.
It’s time. The market is shifting with the introduction of technology that makes almost anything possible. People with hearing loss want affordable options, and now that they can smell the change in the air, they will demand them. And it’s clear that the hearing health industry is not only sniffing the same air, but is trying to decide what to do about it.
People with hearing loss are waiting– some patiently and some not– to see if this report will bring about change. But we will work with you to make it happen. Just– please, don’t make us beg.
Photo: Title from the NAS report.