Audiology, Hearing Aids, and the Future

by Mike Metz

Have you come across those newspaper ads that try to solicit a varying number of people to participate in a “study” with “new” hearing aids?  Who would do this?  It’s just an ad gimmick, right?  Despite likely being illegal in many states, how can such things that mislead consumers be good for audiologists, dispensers, physicians or anyone connected with healthcare?  Clinical trials?  Really?

I recently saw a full-color, inside back cover ad in a national magazine for a $200 “MD hearing aid”, and there was an ad in Parade Magazine for a PSAP stating that, after doing an audiogram, “…audiologists charge up to $5000 for hearing aids….”  These types of ads used to be the territory of “less-than-standard” companies and offices.  Now they are often in newspaper advertising belonging to certain groups or companies.

Is this acceptable professional advertising?  Has anybody done anything about it?  Who’s responsible?

If you had a marketing course in your educational program, you might know what kind of marketing is OK for a “professional”.  In a world of gatekeepers, Medicare and HMOs, rapidly diminishing reimbursements, differing sources of supply, and all the other influences on Audiology, what kind of advertising or promotion makes sense for this field?

Have you read the following article?

Do or Die for Hearing Aid Industry, Fan-Gang Zeng, The Hearing Journal, Vol. 68, No 12, Dec., 2015

This insightful editorial speaks to a couple of reasons the hearing aid industry is on the verge of dramatic (dysfunctional?) change.  Of note is the number of “scientific” publications—124 peer-reviewed publications on hearing aids (by all of he “Big Six” companies) versus 1582 peer-reviewed Cochlear Implant publications from only three companies over the same past few years.  Professor Zeng offers a couple of reasons for this difference.  How would you account for it?  Think “marketing” versus research.

After watching the FDA hearing on PSAPs, I wonder when the FDA or its subcommittees will move on the PCAST recommendation, or on PSAPs, or other regulatory changes concerning hearing aids, OTC devices, or other issues that may be “relevant to us”.  The odds for long-term changes in the hearing device market appear much greater than odds for maintaining the status quo.  Status quo would seem to rank low on many lists.

Audiologists can discuss the odds and the reasons for and against future changes, but Audiology may have little input in what is coming.  Our best arguments are insufficient when the best skills and actions reach patients through just a fraction of the profession.  Public and political sympathy are not on our side when it comes to hearing aids.

Do we have anything on our side?  Yes, there are a number of things.  Technology may be one.  Regarding marketing and politics, probably not so much.

If you read the three-part article on this blog site by Virginia Ramachandran, AuD, PhD, and Brad Stach, PhD, as they discussed the PCAST “myths”, you will be familiar with several arguments used by audiology to “prove worth”.  The gist of these myths might boil down to the following questions:

  1. Should audiologists continue to argue that only the “art” or “skill” of a clinician would make hearing aids work as well as a patient expects them to work?
  2. Is technology alone sufficient to help hearing-impaired patients solve hearing problems?
  3. Do any present arguments have sufficient “legs” to carry us through the coming disruptions? *

Marketing, advertising, politics and other plans dealing with audiologists and hearing aids have either failed or produced little forward momentum.  Perhaps we should come up with alternative methods to contend with changing the role of audiology.  Maybe audiologists should embrace PSAPs and the coming technology and forsake diagnostic practice and simply be retail sellers of these devices.  They could then bypass an audiology license and professional dues, actively promote their products, abandon the obligation to adhere to ethical and legal constraints other than those of the marketplace, and depend instead on storefronts and penetrating marketing such as “pseudo-trials of new technology” or something equally catchy.  Customers coming to these offices would get better hearing care than from others less well trained, wouldn’t they?

Before you start throwing things, you should realize that many situations, including this one, seem to exist today.  None is inconsistent with the future.  And, there is nothing inherently wrong in being an honest retail merchant.

Most things will change, although this is not a consensus opinion among audiologists as far as I can tell.  I wish these issues bothered you as much as they do me.  Your future is at stake.  The question is: What will you do about it?

(* My answers to these three questions: 1. “Reluctantly, I suppose so”.  2.“Probably yes”, and 3.“Tragically, doubtful.”)

 

Michael Metz, PhD
Michael Metz, PhD

Dr. Metz has been a practicing audiologist for over 45 years, having taught in several university settings and,  in partnership with Bob Sandlin, providing continuing education for audiology and dispensing in California for over 3 decades.  Mike owned and operated a private practice in Southern California for over 30 years.  He has been professionally active in such areas as electric response testing, hearing conservation, hearing aid dispensing, and legal/ethical issues.  He continues to practice in a limited manner in Irvine, California.


About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for your concern Chris. Of course we can fight for our professional status. We just have little chance of success if we continue to fight n the current manner. Technology should work for us. Device sales should be directed by knowledge and proven results. Audiology could have a lot to offer. We did at one time in the past.

  2. Mike thanks for your excellent article. We in Australia are hot on the heels of the US. Very worrying. I for one do not want to become a shop keeper as our pharmacists have to be in the marketplace here, subsidising their practice with the sale of spurious vitamins & weight loss gimmicks. Can’t we fight back??

  3. Wow! Mike you make some important statements for the future. You will have some people thinking. Great insight!

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