How Empathy, Compassion, and UX Can Increase Hearing Aid Uptake

March 14, 2017

Editor’s Note: It is my pleasure to introduce a new quarterly column to HHTM. It is one geared toward our younger readers – those newly minted audiologists and hearing instrument specialists with a fresh perspective that all our readers can appreciate. Young clinicians, graduate students and other millennials who have grown up with technology and can seamlessly navigate new hearing aid software without calling the Technical Support hotline or effortlessly upload a YouTube video without consulting their kids. To be sure, the voice of the older, experienced generation is not a bad thing. After all, they have lived long enough to remember when clinicians actually conducted Bekesy audiometry and used a mini-screwdriver to make adjustments on hearing aids. This experience and longevity provides our readers with a valuable perspective, especially in these interesting times.

On the other hand, as we move into an era defined by disruption, it benefits all of us to hear from those who have been exposed to technological innovations since childhood. Garrett Thompson, an audiology student at the City University of New York, who happens to have a Bachelor’s in Economics, is one such person. Here’s to Garrett’s first quarterly column, adroitly called The Young and the RIC-less: Musings from a Millennial Audiologist. I hope you find his thoughts stimulating.

Brian Taylor, AuD



By Garrett Thompson






“Face it, people don’t want hearing aids.”

If you’ve heard this sentiment before, you’re not alone.



UX is a shorthand term used in Silicon Valley design circles, meaning User Experience. It’s a simple phrase, but it encompasses much of the ethos of the startup culture. The focus is on designing elegant products that consumers love to use. A product with excellent UX is intuitive, satisfying, and solves a specific problem that the consumer faces. Another way to look at this is to design a product or service with the consumer’s perspective in mind, to use empathy and compassion to see the problem from their point of view. In other words, give the consumer what she wants1. In my young career, I have heard many audiologists and reps say that the product we deliver to patients is something they do not want. I find this statement nauseating. At best it feels like self-deprecating humor, and at worse it feels like self-loathing. Also, it seems to me that it is not true.

If you ask a patient if he wants to understand his friends at dinner, or hear his granddaughter’s whisper in his ear, the answer will be yes. This is, in reality, what we are delivering to patients, and they want it bad. Admittedly hearing aids are not the sexiest tech product around, and I don’t think we should pretend they are. But they can do some pretty cool stuff!


If we ditch the negative attitude and use empathy to drastically improve the UX of hearing aid acquisition and usage, we can increase hearing aid uptake and lower the age of first time use. I believe the new generation of AuDs is particularly suited for this task.


There has been much trumpeting of factors explaining the low uptake of hearing aids, if you are reading this then you already know them: prohibitive cost, inadequate access, and perceived lack of benefit. As I see it, you can add another barrier to acquiring hearing aids: terrible UX.

The end-to-end experience of the patient is complicated and inconvenient, and the devices are user-unfriendly. As a patient, first you must find a competent professional, be thoroughly tested, and appropriately fit and verified. This process is time-consuming and cumbersome, especially for a Baby Boomer who is still working. Once you have the devices, you get the pleasure of manipulating tiny batteries weekly and infinitesimal wax guards when you remember they need to be changed (you’ll forget how to change them by then). This is the fault of the designer; not only the designer of the product but the designer of the clinic’s patient care protocol, too.


Hearing aids have seen some improved usability in recent years, most notably direct to smartphone connectivity and rechargeable devices. The UX is still generally inconvenient and frustrating though, which not only affects satisfaction with the hearing aids and audiologist, it reduces a patient’s independence and self-efficacy.


You have to ask for help or come in every time you can’t troubleshoot a problem. It also adds to the public perception that hearing aids don’t work and are only for people who can’t take care of themselves. Poor UX may be an explanation for why countries with accessible and free hearing aids have similar uptake rates as the United States2.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!



  1. Patnaik, Dev. Needfinding: design research and planning. Amazon CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.
  2. McCormack, A., & Fortnum, H. (2013). Why do people fitted with hearing aids not wear them? International Journal of Audiology52(5), 360–368.


Garrett Thompson is an audiology student at the City University of New York and is currently completing his externship at the Callier Center of UT-Dallas. He was a national finalist in the 2015 Academy of Doctors of Audiology student business plan competition. His writing has previously been featured in Audiology Today and Audiology Practices. Thompson received a BA in Economics from Boston College. Contact him at [email protected] or @Dr_Audball


Featured image courtesy ec4ublog

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