Will Another Year of Disruption Lead to Unity Among Hearing Professionals? Not Likely, But it Should!

Hearing Health & Technology Matters
January 17, 2017

By Michael Collins, AuD


My fellow hearing professionals, disruption is at our doorstep.

I doubt that most of you would have thought just a few short years ago that our industry would be turned on its head in such a short amount of time by the likes of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) and likely very soon,  the US Congress.

How many among us would have guessed that things would have moved so rapidly over the past several months that the prospect of an OTC class of hearing aids is now very real in 2017, thanks to legislation proposed by prominent US Senators, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Grassley?

The momentum, including consumer and public sentiment, has shifted strongly against our industry as it currently operates.


Can You Blame the Public?


When it comes to hearing aids, I’m sorry to say, that in the minds of the public we’re no better than Big Pharma—taking advantage of people financially, for apparently no reason other than to get rich.

This is precisely the reason that two of the most influential US Senators are now pushing for an OTC class of hearing aids to “improve access for consumers”.

To quote American Academy of Audiology (AAA) President, Ian Windmill, Ph.D.


“We also suffer from an access issue. There are simply not enough audiologists positioned geographically to meet the current demand for hearing care, much less the demand expected over the next several decades. So should we be outraged with Congress or federal agencies for allowing more people to access hearing care, or should we be outraged at ourselves and our academic programs for not recognizing and responding to the demand? Moreover, do we deny individuals access to a hearable that could be a consumer electronic because they cannot easily access audiology services?”

President’s Message, Audiology Today, Jan/Feb 2017


Regardless of who, or what, is to blame for our current state of affairs, the reality is that we need to embrace this change that is coming at us full speed. Otherwise, we risk being left behind.

Consumers want access, plain and simple. They will find it — with or without us.


Expanding Access to Professional Care


As people who have dedicated years of their lives to improving the lives of others, whether you’re an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist, hearing professionals have a lot in common. Sadly, while our industry has been confronted with some of the biggest challenges in decades, our professional organizations have continued to bicker and put energy and resources into fighting one another in public forums and in court.

I don’t deny, as an audiologist, the legitimate concern over encroachment into our scope of practice, among other issues. However, I’ve witnessed some of the worst vitriol between professionals and organizations over the last 1-2 years than I have seen in my professional career.

It’s incredibly disheartening.


A Plea for Unity


I had written previously, back in 2015, about how encouraging it was that IHS and ADA were joining forces for the (now defunct) Unison Summit, and was feeling rather hopeful for our collective professional futures back then. However, I must admit, my extreme disappointment at where we find ourselves today.


Let’s resolve to make 2017 the year we honestly try to put aside our differences, for all of our sake.


Our industry is at a critical turning point. What happens this year could have ramifications for years to come. 

Do we want to spend the rest of this crucial time putting our energy into turf battles? I certainly don’t. Let’s all take a step back, re-focus, and instead put our energy into strategies that will put the industry on a path where everyone benefits, including the millions of consumers that need, and deserve, high quality, professional hearing care. 


*images courtesy mediaquaint, Flckr


Michael Collins, AuD is an audiologist with experience in private practice and within industry working for a major hearing aid manufacturer. Dr. Collins believes that independent hearing care practitioners can and will continue to thrive in the future, but only if they shift their focus away from just technology, and instead commit to best practices and greater personalization of the patient experience.

  1. I fully agree. My company, Alango Technologies works for CE industry and we are trying to disrupt the current situation introducing VERY low cost, multi-functional solutions for hearing impaired. We are trying to figure out the best business model that will also include audiologists that are willing to change. There various ideas for how to do that and we are open for discussions. Let me know if you attend AAA and we’ll be able to discuss it in our booth or outside.

    1. Hi Alexander,

      Thanks for the comments. I won’t be at AAA this year, but I know a lot of my colleagues are coming to the realization that the status quo is no longer going to cut it moving forward.

      There’s definitely a thirst out there among hearing professionals that they want to offer something unique in their office that isn’t really available elsewhere (like online or big box), which could benefit their patients. AAA should be a great venue to speak with a lot of audiologists out there that are looking for ways to separate themselves and are open to new technologies.

      Good luck!

  2. Are there parallels between UK NHS free supply and OTC hearing aid provision?

    Private Hearing Aid Dispensers in the UK work in the same space as the National Health Service which provides prescription hearing aids of a good standard to any UK resident with an aidable loss free at the point of issue. This causes some Dispensers to worry that each improvement in NHS services adversely impacts their business. History suggests otherwise. The better the service the NHS provides the more the private sector flourishes.

    The NHS fit people who are not at a point in their personal pathway where they are prepared to buy privately. For some this is because of the cost and that never changes but for others it’s caution driven by not understanding the cost/benefit ratio of buying privately. A successful NHS fitting gives a patient confidence that hearing aids make a positive contribution and then, those that can afford it, start to investigate private hearing aids. In these instances the NHS do one part of the job for me – persuading somebody that hearing aids deliver benefit – and all I have to do is give them confidence in my ability to help them get the best they can.

    A little over half of my patients did not trouble the NHS for an aid (even though provision is free) and a little under half had been down the NHS road yet still bought something from me. There will always be a private market because there will always be people prepared to pay to get the best. I strongly suspect though that a proportion of those that went to the NHS first only came to me because of the NHS. Generally we (the UK) trail in the wake of the USA – in this instance I think the reverse is true and I predict OTC sales (if the Bill is passed) will stimulate extra private sales.

    If one accepts that the OTC purchaser is at an earlier stage in their personal pathway than the private buyer then involvement in this model could provide a great opportunity to engage with more customers early thereby growing the database of qualified prospects later on.

    1. Mark,

      I think the OTC aid could actually engage more people to get hearing aids in the long term, but these would be available anywhere essentially, not just in an audiologist office.

      However, there are so many unknowns right now with labeling requirements, etc, that may ultimately be part of the OTC hearing aid bill that passes congress.

      Thanks for your interest!

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