By David H. Kirkwood
The International Hearing Society (IHS) and at least two major hearing aid manufacturers have taken strong stands against the sale of hearing aids directly to consumers. As Hearing News Watch reported in posts on September 20 and October 5, two companies—hi HealthInnovations (a UnitedHealthcare company) and Audiotoniq—have announced that they will begin selling hearing aids to consumers online, along with devices that prospective purchasers can use to test their own hearing.
Their products are priced at under $1000, much less than consumers typically pay for instruments dispensed in person by a licensed audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. In addition, Best Buy has begun selling Focus Ear, a personal sound amplifier, to customers for under $500.
“EXTREMELY ALARMING,” SAYS IHS
In a message sent to IHS members on October 7, Kathleen Mennillo, the executive director, said it was “extremely alarming” that hi HealthInnovations plans to “provide online hearing tests, and sell hearing aids direct to consumers through the Internet without requiring any face-to-face contact with a professional.”
Mennillo assured members, most of whom are hearing instrument specialists, “that IHS is already working diligently to understand the full scope of these matters so we can determine the appropriate action.”
One of the first actions that IHS has decided to take is to place full-page ads in three hearing industry trade magazines stating, “The International Hearing Society is deeply committed and totally invested in preventing over-the-counter and internet sales of hearing aids.” The ad will also urge readers, “Please contact us to see how you can help.”
ReSOUND, STARKEY ALSO OPPOSED
Both ReSound and Starkey Laboratories have notified their customers in this country of their opposition to the sale of hearing aids directly to consumers. In a message dated October 6, Kim Herman, president of ReSound US, said that this development has “stirred concern among our customers.”
Herman added, “ReSound does not support the sale of hearing aids directly to consumers…We are committed to the principle that hearing aid technology is successful only when a trained professional has evaluated the hearing loss and fit a hearing solution that meets the patient’s individualized needs.”
The ReSound executive added, “The devices being promoted in the recent announcements not only circumvent the hearing professional, but will also have the unfortunate consequence of negatively impacting public perception of hearing solutions.”
Sounding a similar note, Brandon Sawalich, senior vice-president at Starkey, e-mailed customers: “Patient satisfaction with amplification is directly related to the interaction with a hearing professional, and that can’t be accomplished with a direct-to-consumer strategy. Starkey does not support the recent activities related to direct-to-consumer sales of stock amplification by Best Buy and UnitedHealthcare.
He added, “As most of you know, the concept of selling cheap stock amplification directly to the consumer is not a new one. This approach provides poor solutions for consumers, who will not be happy with their purchase decision.”
COMPANIES SEE CONSUMER BENEFIT
hi HealthInnovations and Audiotoniq insist that their new products will be good for consumers with hearing loss, especially people who have refused to get hearing help through the normal channels. By making it easier and less expensive to get hearing aids, the companies say that direct-to-consumer distribution will help address the problem of the underutilization of hearing aids.
WATCH FOR VIEWS ON THIS ISSUE
Starting October 19, the Hearing Views section of Hearinghealth matters.org will present a series of opinion pieces on the issue of the direct-to-consumer sale of hearing aids.