Editor’s Note: Today’s commentary is part of an ongoing discussion over Phonak’s recent decision to distribute their hearing aids at Costco Hearing Aid Centers nationwide. The news story broke a viewership record on our site in March and readers unfamiliar with the story are encouraged to refer to previous posts addressing the subject. Much of the content from today’s post was recently circulated to EarQ members via email.
The viewpoints expressed in today’s commentary are solely those of Mr. Keller. In an effort to provide a balanced perspective to our readers, Hearing Views has reached out to Phonak for a response, which we have received and will post here tomorrow. Please stay tuned.
By Edward Keller
Our industry is changing in unexpected and concerning ways, and it is time for hearing healthcare leaders to take a stand for their businesses, patients and profession.
As staunch advocates of quality hearing health standards, EarQ and its network of providers are committed to a core set of values, and we have consistently addressed the actions of manufacturers that compromise the integrity of hearing healthcare. I can assure you that along with our public statements regarding those tactics, we address them privately with our technology partners and other recognized entities within the industry.
The fact is that through its 2,500 Connect Hearing locations, Sonova, using its Phonak brand, already boasts the nation’s largest retail network. Connect Hearing offers an exclusive price match guarantee which is aggressively marketed to more than 50 million Americans. Additionally, Sonova, through Hearing Planet, is the largest consumer site for online hearing aid sales.
With its emergence into the wholesale market, the Phonak brand is now offered across a multifaceted nationwide distribution platform, which likely challenges the viability of the current hearing healthcare model.
We believe that these methods can be damaging to the independent practitioner’s business or reputation in the following ways:
- A patient visits your office and, after a complete evaluation, a Phonak product is recommended and purchased from your practice.
- During the device trial period, the patient compares your price to Hearing Planet’s price, learns of Connect Hearing’s low price guarantee, or visits the local Costco.
- The patient returns to your office, requests a refund, and leaves your practice with a perception that he or she was overcharged. As a result, your reputation is irrevocably harmed.
As a collective, the hearing healthcare community controls its own destiny. If you choose to only buy and market products from manufacturers that share your core values and ethics, your choice will deliver two strong messages:
- It tells all manufacturers that you are watching their choices and will support them if they support you.
- It tells manufacturers who have chosen to commoditize hearing healthcare that their actions are unacceptable and you will not stand for it.
Additionally, we suggest that practices with multiple fitting professionals require management-level approval in order to dispense hearing instruments from manufacturers with values inconsistent with your own.
We welcome your feedback, concerns, and all inquiries. Our organization’s commitment has always been, and will continue to be, to advocate for the highest standards of treatment and to ensure that independent practices remain as the true gateway for proper hearing healthcare and patient safety.
Ed Keller is the President and founder of EarQ, a nationwide network of hearing healthcare providers with over 1,400 locations nationwide. EarQ offers business consulting, marketing support and other services to independent practices . In January 2013, Keller founded the HearStrong Foundation to recognize the accomplishments of those who have overcome hearing loss to inspire others to do the same.