By Michael Collins, AuD
My fellow hearing professionals, disruption is at our doorstep.
I doubt that most of you would have thought just a few short years ago that our industry would be turned on its head in such a short amount of time by the likes of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) and likely very soon, the US Congress.
How many among us would have guessed that things would have moved so rapidly over the past several months that the prospect of an OTC class of hearing aids is now very real in 2017, thanks to legislation proposed by prominent US Senators, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Grassley?
The momentum, including consumer and public sentiment, has shifted strongly against our industry as it currently operates.
Can You Blame the Public?
When it comes to hearing aids, I’m sorry to say, that in the minds of the public we’re no better than Big Pharma—taking advantage of people financially, for apparently no reason other than to get rich.
This is precisely the reason that two of the most influential US Senators are now pushing for an OTC class of hearing aids to “improve access for consumers”.
To quote American Academy of Audiology (AAA) President, Ian Windmill, Ph.D.
“We also suffer from an access issue. There are simply not enough audiologists positioned geographically to meet the current demand for hearing care, much less the demand expected over the next several decades. So should we be outraged with Congress or federal agencies for allowing more people to access hearing care, or should we be outraged at ourselves and our academic programs for not recognizing and responding to the demand? Moreover, do we deny individuals access to a hearable that could be a consumer electronic because they cannot easily access audiology services?”
–President’s Message, Audiology Today, Jan/Feb 2017
Regardless of who, or what, is to blame for our current state of affairs, the reality is that we need to embrace this change that is coming at us full speed. Otherwise, we risk being left behind.
Consumers want access, plain and simple. They will find it — with or without us.
Expanding Access to Professional Care
As people who have dedicated years of their lives to improving the lives of others, whether you’re an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist, hearing professionals have a lot in common. Sadly, while our industry has been confronted with some of the biggest challenges in decades, our professional organizations have continued to bicker and put energy and resources into fighting one another in public forums and in court.
I don’t deny, as an audiologist, the legitimate concern over encroachment into our scope of practice, among other issues. However, I’ve witnessed some of the worst vitriol between professionals and organizations over the last 1-2 years than I have seen in my professional career.
It’s incredibly disheartening.
A Plea for Unity
I had written previously, back in 2015, about how encouraging it was that IHS and ADA were joining forces for the (now defunct) Unison Summit, and was feeling rather hopeful for our collective professional futures back then. However, I must admit, my extreme disappointment at where we find ourselves today.
Let’s resolve to make 2017 the year we honestly try to put aside our differences, for all of our sake.
Our industry is at a critical turning point. What happens this year could have ramifications for years to come.
Do we want to spend the rest of this crucial time putting our energy into turf battles? I certainly don’t. Let’s all take a step back, re-focus, and instead put our energy into strategies that will put the industry on a path where everyone benefits, including the millions of consumers that need, and deserve, high quality, professional hearing care.
*images courtesy mediaquaint, Flckr
Michael Collins, AuD is an audiologist with experience in private practice and within industry working for a major hearing aid manufacturer. Dr. Collins believes that independent hearing care practitioners can and will continue to thrive in the future, but only if they shift their focus away from just technology, and instead commit to best practices and greater personalization of the patient experience.