audiology lessons from other fields

Lessons for Audiology from Other Places

To paraphrase from a little joke that went around some time ago:  “Our field is unique, just like every other field”. 

There are likely some semi-universal truths, and therefore likely lots of lessons audiology can learn from others, if we listen and take heed.  Why is it important that we learn from others?  How about these for starters:

So we don’t keep reinventing the wheel.

So we can find directions from outside our box.

So we can be more efficient.

I recommend an interesting book:  Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction, Penguin Random House UK, 2016.   Quite a bit of what she discusses can, with a little thought, apply to audiology, especially when it comes to statistics, sampling, and what technology is doing to and for us.

What do other fields do to succeed, or to just get by.  Why do some fail?  Start off by considering what technology has done.  I recall the first digital calculator—red LED screen—available to most of us if we had upwards of $500.  This was in the early 1970s, and all they did was simple math operations.  By the next decade, banks were giving away smaller, more versatile units when I opened an account.  (I opted instead for the digital toaster, thanks to Fabry and Rose.)  Chips, laptops, and other technology have made those early calculators hard to find. My new hand-held calculator answers almost everything I ask, and makes a phone call to boot.

Computers were supposed to eliminate typewriters and paper.  I can’t get my IBM Selectric fixed anywhere, but I have upped my use of plain paper perhaps by 500% thanks to HP and printers that used to cost a whole lot more than the hundred bucks I paid for my last one.

Amazon and EBay have me “profiled” on the basis of my buying history. I’m afraid to buy anything from Alibaba. In point of fact, I am growing leery of all oversees websites except the British music sites. I was going to buy some Greek soap but stopped due to fear of Greece’s neighbors. If they can hack American law enforcement and political sites, what are my odds?

Try selling or giving away dictionaries and encyclopedias to anyone since the internet, Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, Siri and her sisters Cortina and Alexa, and probably many others, have made analog (book and paper) investigation mostly obsolete.  I fear for the future of librarians.

With the advent of facial recognition rapidly advancing, I will soon expect to walk into my house in the afternoon, my face will be recognized, my digital barman will prepare my afternoon toddy, my digital butler will offer my smoking jacket and tune the digital TV to my favorite news.  I can see this same sort of scenario paying out in restaurants, bars, and churches in my neighborhood too.  That’s where it gets scary.  And brings us back to O’Neil’s book.


Technology: What have you done for me lately?


Have you made hearing aids so complicated that you eventually will not need me?  You started with ‘first fit” and we all know how that worked out.  What’s next?  Well, we have some idea already. Arriving are OTCs, DIYs, EPAs (Ear Pod Aids), and probably more, all courtesy of high-tech companies who no doubt will market in ways we can barely imagine.

Have you developed or enabled databases to collect sufficient information that someone’s advertising will flood offices with potential customers, based on their faces having appeared at the office of, oh, say, a competitor, a medical specialist, or just in the vicinity of an Apple or Sharper Image store?  Can just anyone send me an email ad generated from a list of hearing aid battery purchasers? 

Will my business suffer if my patient gets an email or snail mail informing them that the office down the street offers “better” prices and service then me?  This data probably is not HIPPA or “health-related” information since it can be collected out in the public spaces—this and other minutia that can be managed in a large database to the profit of someone.

What do these “data based” numbers tell us about targeted populations?  What results when our patients/customers—and us— are quantified and sorted by these computer algorithms?  Should those algorithms apply to healthcare?  It seems to work for other fields—should it also work for us?  Read O’Neil before you answer.

Other fields have enjoyed (endured, tolerated, whatever—you choose the verb) the revolution that technology brought to their methods.  I suspect that audiology is in for a wild ride over the next couple of years. 


Further Reading Suggestions


If you do read Professor O’Neil’s WMD book, you might be surprised just how much audiology and audiologists are coming to resemble others.  If you appreciate O’Neil, you may also like The Numbers Game by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot, Gotham Books (Penguin Group USA), 2009.  It’s interesting reading with respect to what we question and believe.


mike metzMike Metz, PhD, 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.


*This post was originally published January 24, 2017. Updated March 7, 2019

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