While the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) of America agrees with the basic idea of increasing accessibility and affordability of hearing aids, in a December 3rd press release, they expressed concerns about the recently proposed Warren-Grassley legislation intended to create a new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.
The primary concerns expressed in the HIA statement pertain to requirements in the proposed legislation that would require consumers to self-diagnose both the cause and degree of hearing loss prior to purchasing hearing aids without the guidance of a professional. Their statement goes on to mention the oft-cited 2015 JapanTrak hearing aid survey, sponsored by the Japan Hearing Instruments Manufacturers Association (JHIMA), whose members include Oticon, Phonak, Resound, Bernafon, Sivantos, Starkey and Widex.
OTC Hearing Aid Bill: “Right Objectives, but Wrong Solutions”
In their December 3rd statement, HIA called for the US Congress to act on a tax credit to make hearing aids more affordable. They also asked that primary care physicians become more involved in the routine hearing screening (and referral for those who fail to hearing care professionals) of adults over the age of 60.
Carole Rogin, President of HIA cited in the statement that in Japan “only 39% of hearing aids users were satisfied with their hearing aids, where hearing aids are widely sold OTC in jewelry, electronics and similar retail stores. Here in the US, 81% of users are satisfied with their hearing aids. Further, the hearing aid adoption rate in Japan is 15%, compared to 30% in the US.”
Rogin went on to say, “Abandoning professional services leads to poorer outcomes and hence lower adoption rates.”
Taking a Closer Look at the Data
A careful analysis of the 2015 JapanTrak report does indicate relatively low satisfaction among hearing aid users in Japan compared to other global hearing aid markets. In addition, JapanTrak shows that the bilateral hearing aid fit rate is 42%, which could also be a contributing factor to their low hearing aid satisfaction scores. Although it is difficult to know from the report the specific type of services provided when the hearing aids were purchased, details of the 2015 JapanTrak report indicate that 49% of hearing aids were dispensed in a hearing aid center, 14% in an optical shop, 13% in a hospital/clinic, 12% over the internet and 7% were sold via mail order (4% were from “other” sources).
The report also indicated that overall satisfaction with hearing aids (a rating by the consumer as either very satisfied, satisfied or somewhat satisfied) was 40% for those who purchased from the hearing aid center, 39% for those who purchased from the optical shop and 30% for those purchasing from the internet. (They report did not have a representative sample those purchasing from a hospital/clinic or via the mail.)
Dissatisfaction data from the report also provides valuable insight, as 35% of customers purchasing from a hearing aid center had poor ratings (very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, or somewhat dissatisfied), 42% purchasing from an optical shop and 50% purchasing on-line had unfavorable ratings, respectively.
Certainly the case can be made that direct to consumer hearing aid purchases result in a substantially large number of unfavorable ratings, however, the report suggests that Japan may have a broader hearing aid satisfaction problem that goes beyond how the hearing aids are purchased.
The complete 2015 JapanTrak report can be found here.