EarQ President Blasts Phonak Over Costco Move

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

Ed Keller
Ed 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:

  1. A patient visits your office and, after a complete evaluation, a Phonak product is recommended and purchased from your practice.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Moving Forward

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.


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4 Comments

  1. phonak/costco….starkey with their audibel stores and their american hearing benefits program telling insurance programs how they will discount their hearing aids and then taking FULL PRICE FOR THEIR HEARING AIDS AND CHOPPING AUDIOLOGY FEES IN HALF !!!
    AUDIOLOGIST AND DISPENSERS DESERVE WHAT THEY GET FOR THEIR INACTIONS !

  2. Here is the scenario…
    An entire set of professionals Audiologists and Hearing Aid Specialists can be wiped out.

    Price is KING with the consumer, and NO ONE can compete against the manufacturers.
    If left unchecked, this model will grow, and absolutely no one will go to a private practice.

    So far only two manufacturers support the professional by not selling in Big Box stores.
    They are Widex and Starkey.

    So far my understanding is that Costco is selling Siemens under the Rexton brand, Oticon is doing this under Bernafon Brand, and so are Sonivas Phonak and Resound.

    A nation wide Boycott should be coordinated by all Audiologists and Hearing aid Specialists. Set a day, and stop selling the products from the manufacturers who sell in BIG BOX stores.

    Money is the ONLY thing that will get their attention.

    I’m in, any takers!

    Roy Binder
    Earman@bellsouth.net

  3. Scott, Sounds like Phonak has already made you a deal to stay with them. Earlier you were saying on Linkedin how upset you were with Phonak and looking to maybe jump ship. Teach them a lesson and maybe start your own buying group. I think in a cross situation or a FS system you are probably right but 95 percent of the time you can fit another manufacturers product and do just as good of a job as any Phonak product. Correct me if I am wrong, but other than those mentioned and maybe severe wind conditons if really needed, is Phonak any better than some of the other manufacturers.

  4. Conceptually, I agree with just about everything Mr. Keller.

    My only exception would be the suggestion requiring employees to seek management approval in order to dispense instruments from manufacturers with values inconsistent with my own.

    My own philosophy when judging all of this political stuff boils down to one question: what is the best solution for the patient? If the best technology for them happens to be something coming from a manufacturer I don’t like for whatever reason, BUT it’s the only manufacturer that offers it, then I need to go with that manufacturer. 80% of the patients I see I can’t satisfy with just about any manufacturer, but some just are better served by specific brands and models. We can’t ignore this, and I’d submit that it would be ethically wrong to let politics get in the way of what’s best for the patient.

    As an example, I’m one of those people who are very unhappy with the Phonak / Costco deal. However, we just started a comparison study between their CROS system and the new Widex CROS that was released earlier this year. Our first patient in the study only has one more appointment, and she indicated she favors the Phonak system for several reasons. This being the case, I can’t let my own politics get in the way of what’s best for her.

    Now, she’s just the first person in the study. I’ll reserve overall judgement when our study is completed, which will be 3-4 months from now. But this illustrates how the focus should be on the patient first, and politics should be much lower on the list.

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