Last week on Hearing Views, several of my fellow editors at HearingHealthMatters.org responded to my request for their thoughts on BioAid, “a free mobile app,” that, according to the university where it was developed, “turns an iPhone or iPod into a hearing aid that could revolutionize the future for people with hearing loss.” The April 17 post ended with a thoughtful and detailed analysis by Wayne Staab, PhD, editor of the Wayne’s World blog.
This week, in the conclusion of our two-part Hearing View, several of our blog’s editors express their opinions on my initial question and on Wayne’s statement.
David H. Kirkwood, Editor, Hearing Views
Marshall Chasin, PhD, editor of Music and Hearing, responded directly to Dr. Staab: “Wayne, thanks for the comments, but I feel the real limiting thing right now is the 8-kHz sampling rate (4-kHz bandwidth). This will undoubtedly improve over the years, though.”
Jane Madell, PhD, who is blogger-in-chief at Hearing and Kids, raised the issue of price–something that the developers of BioAid (and of most other proposed alternatives to professionally dispensed hearing aids) emphasize in their marketing efforts. Jane told her colleagues:
“You know, guys, hearing aids do not have to cost this much. Not everyone needs all those bells and whistles. We know that one of the main reasons that about two-thirds of the people who do not buy hearing aids state that price is a primary reason. So maybe manufactures need to stop catering to the rich and make something the rest of the world can use.”
That resonated with Gael Hannan, our HoH (hard of hearing) blog editor, who added, “Hear, hear! We know there are other reasons people don’t buy, but this is the big one. Every day I hear about people ‘saving up’ to buy hearing aids, at the same time feeling the weight of knowledge that once they get them, they will have to start saving up to replace them 3-5 years later.
“Or people just do without ….and those people will be looking for the amplification alternatives. Others will be turning to the online sellers because they are not being adequately served by the current model.”
Gael added, “There are rumblings all over the place. In Canada, there are some joint initiatives starting up between consumer and professional organizations to explore this.
“What sort of advocacy can HearingHealthMattters.org offer? I haven’t written strongly as yet, but this issue of overpriced hearing aids has been an increasing weight on my mind. Last week, I heard from a friend that her 90-year-old father-in-law, who was living in a nursing home, had been sold a $7000 pair of hearing aids! Then the nursing station misplaced them–and then he died–all in the space of two months.”
“OVERPRICED” HEARING AIDS? NOT SO FAST!
Our Hearing Economics blog editor, Holly Hosford-Dunn, PhD, took a very different tack on the price of hearing aids, a subject she addressed in detail in her posts of February 12, 19, and 26 and March 12. She wrote:
1) ”I do not think hearing aids are overpriced. The analyses, graphs, and writing in my posts of are my attempt to make the economic point that improvements in technology are occurring at reasonable and increasingly lower prices to consumers.
2) “What has happened — and I think this is a good thing as well as an inevitable result of market forces such as Gael and Jane are advocating–is that there are many more choices available at many more price points.
3) “Jane is correct that hearing aids don’t have to be so high priced, and they are not. Any metropolitan newspaper is going to have multiple ads for $399 hearing aids, and there will be even better prices available on the Internet.
4) “Less expensive aids on the market, through any number of distribution paths, are all digital aids, just not with all the ‘bells and whistles’ that Jane mentions, nor are they latest generation. That’s fine. It gives those with fewer resources a choice they didn’t have before.
5) “Finally, do remember that the market has never shown much in the way of elasticity, meaning that changes in price have not influenced consumption choices, by and large. That speaks to the well-known data showing that even when hearing aids are free (e.g., VA, some countries), a large percentage of those with hearing loss choose not to get them.
Holly continued, “Wayne makes a number of interesting points about service delivery, and perhaps there is where the price reduction for high-end hearing aids is going to show up, as the market demands it. If these hearing aids can be fit without an audiogram, and perhaps personally (e.g., with or within a phone), then the value of audiology services is diminished and the corresponding Price of such un-needed services will go down as well.”
Jane Madell added some final thoughts about the price of hearing aids: “One of the problems is that most people do not start needing hearing aids until they are close to retirement when money becomes a concern.
“Many audiologists offer the high-end aids without considering if the lower-end ones might be just as good.
“Since people buy everything else from the Internet they don’t understand why you need an audiologist to help you adjust to hearing aids. Maybe AAA and ASHA have fallen down here. I know a number of audiologists who charge for visits when people come to them with a hearing aid that is not working well for them. People get annoyed with the audiologist. We have obviously not made our value clear.
“Audiologists are becoming less and less involved in rehab. There’s a lot of research showing that when adults are involved in hearing aid orientation classes they do better and have fewer returns. Many audiologists do not provide this service because they cannot bill for it. In my view it should be included in the cost of hearing aids. Tell patients, you paid for this, come to the class. It would improve attendance and maybe improve understanding about hearing aids.”
On a lighter note, Jane concluded, “As part of this discussion I thought you all might want to see where we came from.”
Readers are invited to add their thoughts to this provocative discussion.