LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY — IntriCon, a publicly traded (NASDAQ: IIN) hearing aid manufacturer based in suburban Minneapolis/St.Paul, announced a joint venture with the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) in a story first reported by the Hearing Review on September 14.
The joint venture will operate under the name earVenture LLC and is operated by a board of directors comprised of IntriCon executives and ADA board members and staff.
According to the press release as well as a conversation with an earVenture board member, the main goal of this joint venture is to fill a marketplace void long expressed by both professionals and patients: A low cost, feature-rich hearing instrument that can compete directly with hearing instruments sold direct-to-consumer and at big-box retail chains.
New Opportunity for Audiologists?
According to Stephanie Czuhajewski, executive director of ADA and a member of the earVenture board of directors, the initial offering will be two mid-level, behind-the-ear products. A quick check of the earVenture website indicates that the two products will be offered to ADA members at a discounted rate of $150 and $250, respectively, and will be available to any licensed professional at a non-discounted rate about $100 higher. Any audiologist can join ADA and receive the discounted rate.
Czuhajewski emphasized that earVenture products will be only sold to licensed professionals in an attempt to expand the market for audiological care without cannibalizing the existing market for premium hearing aids.
Additionally, earVenture offers providers a range of ideas on how to best dispense their products to consumers, as their website emphasizes the value of professional services as part of the pricing strategy.
Although earVenture cannot mandate that providers purchasing products from them utilize evidence-based practice guidelines when selecting, fitting and validating hearing aids, Czuhajewski feels that by highlighting a value-based pricing model as part of a comprehensive service package, earVenture is helping providers differentiate their services from the rising popularity of web-based hearing aids and PSAPs, typically sold directly to consumers without professional involvement.
Move Not Without Controversy
In the past ADA has encountered controversy when becoming directly involved in business relationships, such as was the case several years ago, sources tell Hearing News Watch, with its involvement in the AudNet buying group. ADA’s newly announced partnership with IntriCon is also not without its detractors.
IntriCon, a supplier for United Health Care’s hiHealth Innovations and the UK’s National Health Services, has been criticized over the past few years by many audiologists for those relationships, and now enters into a partnership with the largest group of independent practitioners in the U.S. – a shrinking group that now dispenses less than 40% of the total US net unit sales according to a recent HHTM report by Wayne Staab.
On Tuesday, the Hearing Instruments Association (HIA) expressed concern about the recently-announced joint venture.
“earVenture may not align with ADA’s stated mission of advancing ‘professional autonomy and sound business practices’, as profit motives inherent in product sales call into question potential conflicts of interest.Further, HIA thinks the decision by ADA to become a commercial actor in the marketplace negatively impacts that organization’s objectivity and neutrality.” –HIA Press Release, September 15, 2015
One hearing aid manufacturer executive who did not have authorization to speak on behalf of his company shared that he believes many manufacturers will take a “wait and see” approach in regards to the ADA – IntriCon partnership, as many independent audiologists have financial obligations to buying groups and suppliers requiring them to commit a relatively high percentage of their business to a main supplier.
Please stay tuned to HHTM for any new developments to this story.
**Disclosure: Brian Taylor is the editor of Audiology Practices, the quarterly publication of the ADA