This week at Hearing International we welcome back Siamak Sani for his fourth and final discussion of Global Issues in Hearing Care. This week Siamak presents the global costs of untreated hearing impairment. It is our pleasure at Hearing International to once again have Mr. Sani’s unique perspective on the problems of bringing hearing healthcare to the international community.
Global Market Dynamics: A Crisis Growing Rapidly
by Siamak Sani
Study after study in multiple countries continues to reveal that hearing loss affects far more than 1 in 10 of population and project actual statistics much closer to 1 in 5 or about 20%.
The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss, which should be enough reason to sound the alarms for creating better global solutions to screen the world’s children, better protect hearing to avoid further loss, and treat the glaring 99% global unmet needs.
It is difficult to quantify and measure the real impact of hearing loss to families and societies as patients suffer from a myriad of complex emotional and physical side effects such as communication disorders, anxiety, depression, social isolation, social paranoia, medical health, emotional stability, etc. It is even more difficult to quantify the impact of hearing loss on family members and friends. Far more research would be needed to get the true impact on all fronts, but several excellent studies have put this problem into prospective and tried to outline the costs in form of income and productivity losses.
One such study was conducted by Sergei Kochkin at Better Hearing Institute, which estimates that US economy annual income loss impact is $122B with $18B+ unrealized Federal taxes. It also depicts that over 50% of such loss would be re-captured with providing aid to impacted households.
As this only relates to the US market, one can only imagine the impact on large global economies. It should be clear that addressing such problems should have priority for government. In US, best case efforts for providing incentives for working adults have been put forward in the form of a $500 tax credit for each device (Bills HR 1882 and S.315). Years in the works, they have had support and hopefully will be able to provide some benefits to patients starting in 2016. Whether such tax credit provisions will have a major impact on improving patient acquisition of hearing care remains to be seen and measured in a few years.
Addressing affordability of hearing care continues to remain the major issue as average prices of $2300US/unit pose a major hurdle for most patients, most who need a binaural fitting (> $4500US). In Sweden, hearing impaired people on disability cost that country more than 5.25 million Euros/year, according to a study conducted by the Swedish Hearing Association (HRF). The annual cost to the Danish society in lost productivity for just the 50-64 age group is nearly 360 million Euros. This is because many people work less because of their hearing problems or leave the labor market entirely. In Australia, about 160,000 people are unable to work because of their hearing impairments. The total annual direct costs to society associated with hearing loss in Australia is estimated at 4.2 billion Euros. Based on its study, Access Economics estimated that the reduced quality of life among hearing impaired Australians costs the Australian society 385 billion Euros annually, roughly equivalent to the estimated direct costs.
Hearing is a critical sense for effective communication in the workplace as it is a key element of oral verbal communication and safety. Left untreated, the hearing-impaired individuals can suffer income loss due to underemployment, mistakes on the job or face higher rates of unemployment.
Further reduction in quality of life by experiencing anxiety, depression, social isolation, social paranoia, medical health decline, emotional instability, poor cognitive functioning, etc would certainly have negative impact on job performance.
Untreated Hearing loss among Children:
Perhaps the single most important cause for my conviction to remain in the hearing industry was witnessing the tears of joy in several children who heard their parent’s voices for the first time wearing my devices. It is truly a life altering, enriching and magical experience.
Most hearing impaired children will have to deal with a quiet world and not be able to develop speech. Those who are lucky enough to live in advanced areas of the world where infant screening are routine can get help early. Unfortunately, as a major part of the 99% unmet global need due to affordability and service issues, the majority of children with hearing loss will never get necessary treatment early enough in childhood to develop hearing and speech.
Watching 99% of the most loving segments of humanity –“grandparents and children”– suffer from hearing loss and remain in isolation should be an unacceptable fact in all of our lives. Watching this market rapidly expand and double will only make matters worse.
Waiting for the current hearing market forces to develop solutions to this rapidly growing problem has yet to solve the problem. Perhaps having outside forces enter this field will force the current players to adjust their high profit-niche type business model towards becoming more mainstream.
As discussed in prior segments, since 25%-40% market penetration is achievable, the solutions will require major cooperation between government and private sectors to address the inefficiencies in distribution model by creating millions of jobs.
Besides this monumental task, the remaining hope to increase penetration and patient satisfaction would need to come from use of self-diagnosis and self-fit technologies which would help address distribution inefficiencies. Such technologies will also need to provide the highest value to patients, which embody major features such as “most affordable prices with the best audio quality“.
Such technologies have been developed and are ready to be commercialized. The recent advent of Wearables devices has put “Hearables” in focus attracting significant investment. Whether significant breakthrough from this sector will expand penetration and address the rapidly expanding global need remains to be played out.
Huge thanks to Siamak Sani for taking the time to share with Hearing International his perspective on Global Hearing Care over the past four weeks…RMT
Siamak S. Sani, Chief Executive Officer, World Hearing Organization Inc. Mr. Sani holds a BS degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences from UC Berkeley and an MS degree in Engineering Management from Santa Clara University. He is, currently, President & CEO of World Hearing Organization (WHO) Inc. For the past 10 years, Sani has been creating Wearable and hearing enhancement devices and technologies which provide the highest audio performance, 8- prescription instant-fit feature. He has also focused on developing innovative distribution platforms for the global hearing consumer markets. For more than 30 years in executive management of start-ups and $100M public corporations in the Semiconductor and Hearing Industries, he aspires to address the 99% unmet needs of the world’s 2nd largest medical condition, hearing loss. Siamak may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Kochkin, S. (2015) The impact of untreated hearing loss on household income. Better Hearing Institute. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
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