intricon otc hearing aids interview

OTC Hearing Aids & Self-Fit Technologies: Interview with Intricon’s Delain Wright

In this week’s episode, Dave Kemp interviews Delain Wright of Intricon – a company that has been a supplier to the hearing aid industry for decades.
In recent years, Intricon has shifted focus to the value segment of the hearing aid market, which has led to partnerships with UnitedHealthcare in 2012 with hihealthinnovations, and earVenture – a joint venture between Intricon and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology in 2015. The company currently supplies hearing aids to a number of direct to consumer companies.
In their discussion, Dave and Delain review the changing landscape of the hearing industry, implications of the recently released draft regulations for Over The Counter (OTC) hearing aids, and development of Intricon’s self-fit hearing aid technology.

Full Episode Transcript

Dave Kemp 0:10
Okay, welcome to another episode of This Week in Hearing – a show where we discuss all of the recent innovation, news, that’s happening in the hearing health space, hearing aids, hearables, consumer audio, kind of all of the different spaces that involve our sense of hearing. So with me today, I’m joined by Delain Wright. Delain, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Delain Wright 0:36
Absolutely. Thanks, Dave. Great to see. So I, we got so much to talk about, I won’t get stuck here. How’s that? But I have a long history in the hearing business. Like so many people in this business. My parents had started with Beltone, they then moved into their own retail practice. And I joined after I got to college, spent a couple years there went to the manufacturing side, and ended up with Rexton, which was owned by Siemens, ended up working with Rexton running Rexton for a bit going overseas running another branch called A&M hearing, which served the NHS and that was also Siemens came back to run part of the network and kind of buying group stuff for Siemens for a bit. From there, I set spent a short time helping a kind of the first remote care company called America Hears run that for a bit in Philadelphia, was way early, didn’t stay there too long, ended up helping Panasonic launch into their business. They they had eyes for kind of PSAPs and some of the value stuff we’re seeing now. But it was again 10 years early. As a part of trying to help them I ended up connecting with Intricon and spent seven years working with Intricon trying to help them in what we call the value hearing, space value hearing health. And that’s kind of brought me to where I am today. So today I spend all of my all of my work time is in hearing and most of us with Intricon. So

Dave Kemp 2:09
that’s awesome. Well, thank you for joining us. Definitely a journey, man, across the industry jumping into lots of different jobs and roles. And I always love speaking with with you, you know, whenever we have a chance to connect at one of these conferences. It’s been a while. But I always appreciate the the back and forth discussions that we have. And so, you know, when we scheduled this, I thought, you know, there were some things that we were going to talk about, and we’ll still talk about him today. But this was before the FDA issued the new guidelines for over the counter hearing aids. And obviously, with Intricon. Being such a player in this space, I thought wow, what a fitting and fortuitous timing here to kind of have a conversation that I think will It will definitely go beyond just kind of our takes. I think looking more broadly, I think that the longer term vision here of what the implications of this really mean. But before we like jump into all of that I feel it’s probably best for the viewers that aren’t really familiar with Intricon. Can you give a little bit of background on kind of the story of Intricon and in how you sort of would define yourself in the market?

Delain Wright 3:21
Absolutely. So the quick history of Intricon… Intricon used to be a company called RTI, that for, started in ’77. They provided components for the hearing aid so they would make all the switches and volume controls and trim pots and ended up going more into some of the plastics. And they worked across the entire industry. Fast forward digital comes in they, we don’t need as many volume controls and switches on a hearing aid. We moved into more complete systems and more complete hearing aids and made complete hearing aids for many different people throughout the years. I won’t name names, but there’s a bunch of them and made partials for lots of them as well. What kind of redefined Intricon in the hearing space was when they got the contract with United Healthcare. And United Healthcare came in as this big giant who wanted to disrupt hearing care. And Intricon was the exclusive provider for that. And that’s about the time that I joined to say wow, it’s not just a deal with the United Health healthcare there is huge opportunity in the value hearing space. And spent a long time working in that space. I, my first experience of value hearing health was when with the NHS, and the NHS in England was probably the best example of value hearing health. They would look at the product and say, right, this clinically shows that we get better value by paying for this feature. And while they take a lot of criticism, they do you know 1.4 million hearing aids a year so they have a lot of hearing aids experience and they’ve been doing it a long time. So when when we started down this path, all of a sudden, there was a rumor that Elizabeth Warren was coming out with OTC legislation. Being based in Massachusetts and having a little government understanding, I said, “Hey, I’m a constituent, I want to talk to your lead legislative assistant on health,” and began a relationship with them. They quickly accepted the fact that Intricon knew a little bit about the space and began asking for our input. And so we developed a close relationship. And while the whole industry was trying to understand how does OTC fit in, we were probably a little ahead with a single voice on the other side, at least from a manufacturing perspective.

Dave Kemp 5:43
Yeah, no, thank you. That’s really helpful, I think. And to your point there, you know, Intricon, being sort of the supplier turned white-labeler. You know, you all make a lot of the hearing aids for a lot of these new companies, a lot of these new tech companies, you’re the white label behind, you know, some some of these exciting new companies out there. And so I think, you know, when I look at sort of what’s going on right now, with the OTC guidelines and register, you know, regulations and what’s going to come and, as a reminder, there’s still a big review period, I mean, we’re probably not going to see anything implemented until at least late 2022. And so I think that, you know, where we’re at now, I think, is everybody’s trying to kind of just wrap their heads around, well, what will this space look like? And so I’m curious to kind of get your thoughts here on what what your takeaways were, as somebody that’s been involved in a proponent for OTC, really from the start, when you saw those drafted guidelines issued? What were some of the high level takeaways that you have? And then I think we can start to get into maybe some of the implications?

Delain Wright 6:55
I’ll say that I think a lot of it, they looked at this, in my opinion, the FDA looked at this from the patient’s perspective, and how are we going to really help people. And you know, until we get deeper penetration rates, until we give people different ways of getting access to hearing care, which now we know, affects so many other aspects, and that’s come out so clear, from a cognitive standpoint, you know, it’s all over the place. And they the FDA clear, clearly their goal. And I think they weighed all the different opinions and all the different risks, but they said, you know, this is in the best interest of people. And, and so they kind of held true to that it was clear, to me that at least stood out the most. And there’s a lot in there. And it was the fact that, you know, they did put enough, we call them restrictions, but that barriers of entry barriers are going to maintain the high qualities product, right. Whether it’s to do with distortion and noise limits, or latency limits, or the frequency response has to be, you know, certain bandwidth, or, you know, the way it’s smooth, then you can’t have a, you know, a bad response. And I think that’s probably going to keep some of the people that had big eyes thinking, Oh, wow, great opportunity to go and it’s, I don’t see it happening that way. And I think that’s in the best interest of, you know, certainly the the manufacturers that have pushed technology over the last, you know, 30 years. And well, as well, as you know, people who make a high quality product. Of course, some of these big consumer electronics companies will will figure out how to do it. But there will it will take some time, I think,

Dave Kemp 8:38
yeah, yeah, that’s a good point. I mean, I’m looking at it too, and thinking, okay, so you have, you know, the, there’s the 120 decibel output, as something that I would imagine is going to be challenged by the industry are a lot of the different professionals that might cite that that creeps up toward the severe end of the spectrum. So I definitely think there are a few things that stand out. I read Karl Strom’s summary in the Hearing Review, I haven’t had a chance to read through all 114 pages myself, probably never will… Yeah. But I’ll let Karl do the heavy lifting there. So I want to make sure to cite him, because if you haven’t had a chance to read his takeaway, he did go through it. And I think, you know, there were a few things he called out. But I think broadly speaking, they did kind of follow a lot of the recommendations, a lot of the consensus. And here’s the fact of the matter is, it’s you know, it’s it’s inevitable now it’s coming. And so I think, you know, what’s been interesting is I feel as if and maybe you can speak to this too, as somebody that was pro-OTC from the start. I’m sure there was a lot of animosity and hostility toward you, but I feel like there’s been just sort of a gradual shift in the overall mentality within the professionals and even in the industry of just, you know, kind of understanding that it’s, it is what it is. And I think what’s exciting is I think a lot of people are now realizing there’s actually a lot of positives that can come from this. And to your point, it’s all about the patient, I think that there needs to be some safeguards in place so that you know that they don’t, there isn’t bad actors out there that are just completely manipulating the system and abusing the loopholes, or whatever that might be. I think this actually clears a lot of that up. But I do think that what we’re going to see is just so many more people that are, I think going to be more willing to engage in this whole idea of, of treating their hearing loss with all kinds of new solutions, I think that’s what’s most exciting is that it’s not necessarily going to just be hearing aids, I think the consumer tech side is really catching up in a significant way. And what we’ll see, I think, and what we’re already seeing in the market are a lot of these consumer devices that are very much oriented around being consumer devices first, but they have these secondary use cases that are becoming more popular, like AirPods Pro conversation boost, for one example, you’re gonna see, I think a lot more of that start to enter into the market to where it really is catering toward this OTC demographic.

Delain Wright 11:20
Yeah, no, I agree. And I think that will definitely happen. I think there’s a whole different aspect to that, David, that we can talk about, you know, I think the real winner in, in OTC will be the people who are able to deal with the psychology of the hearing impaired and get into into the new ways to serve those people.

Dave Kemp 11:46
Yeah. Okay. So this is really interesting. I, you know, we had a chance to talk a little bit beforehand. And I thought it might make sense here to share about the conference that you just attended the digital health conference. And because what you just said, there, there’s a lot to that. And I think that it’s worth really unpacking here. So why don’t we just kind of begin by you sharing about this conference, you were really raving about it, and kind of like your takeaways coming out of it. And then ultimately, how it coincides with everything that’s happening with OTC

Delain Wright 12:19
Yeah, sure. You know, I for a while now, I believe that we have to change the way we engage the customer, the consumer. And so it led me to start thinking about different ways and looking at AI and machine learning and all these different things. I go to this. So I just went to this conference, and it happened to be in Boston, but it was probably the best conference I’ve ever been to, from a – learning standpoint, they were, you know, I was telling you earlier that the tagline for this conference was, you know, ‘Dear future, we’re coming for you’. And that really embraces digital health. And, you know, the one thing that I took away from that was, we have to figure out how to how to embrace that, that digital side of our business, how it interacts with the patient. So I’m happy to go as deep as

Dave Kemp 13:18
you want. Yeah, no. Okay, so, so this digital health conference, what was the name of the conference? It was it was HLTH.

It was like, HLTH

Delain Wright 13:28
Yeah. HLTH. Yeah. 2021.

Dave Kemp 13:31
And so if I understand it, I mean, it’s a big digital health conference, obviously, that’s a big theme. So walk us through some of the things, some of the companies that were there and just kind of some of the different ideas that are percolating in your head following it.

Delain Wright 13:44
Yeah, so it was what amazed me, when I showed up was this was all people who were engaging different health care areas. So you had people showing how they were interacting with, you know, CPAP machine, diabetes, you know, the mental health thing was all over the place, you know, you had companies like, you know, Headspace and Calm and real, all people who are really dealing in a whole new way, with with the consumer, the patient. And, and, you know, what I took away from that was, you know, we as an industry have led in the product, but we’ve lagged in the, in our way of embracing new technology. And, you know, going back to the and when I say new technology, I’m talking about how do we deal with that patient that I mean, I think I’m happy to go into my own personal thing that got me there now, if you Yeah, go for it. So what really made what would change my mind was on how and the winners within this OTC space was the fact that a year ago January, I all of a sudden look and I realized my daughter is getting married. And you know, I gotta be ready for that. And so like every parent, not new, a lot of parents, you think I gotta drop, I gotta drop 20 pounds, conveniently – COVID hit. And so I decided to jump on my Peloton everyday without exception. And the other thing I did was I joined Noom and Noom was pretty early days, you know, but but it was the right timing for me. And I thought, I’m just gonna try this now I’ve been the 20 up, 20 down guy for 20 years, you know, so it always worked. And then it didn’t, you know, and I never quite understood why. So what I was amazed with, thinking that nobody gets inside my head was how Noom inside my head. And let me just give you a few examples. You know, they start, they come in real nice saying, hey, you know, we’re glad you’re here and tell us about yourself, or what are your goals, this is all this is all digital, this is all about, of course, they say anytime you want to call and talk to a live person, we’re here, we’ll meet you where you are, you know, but they they began to get in, you know, they begin to say, Let us help you understand, let’s understand you. And next thing you know, they’re asking me to do things like, you know, tell me, would you would you weigh this morning and tell me what did you eat today? And you know, they made it extremely simple to give them that information? And then then they would say how much time do you have every day for us to maybe help you understand better eating? And so of course, they want to tell you about the sugars that are in the fruit and they want to tell you how many calories is that bag of nuts you had, it was a whole day’s worth of total caloric. When you think you’re doing something healthy, that’s maybe not the right thing. But but they then go deep, and they go really deep, they start getting into the psychology, do you know why you eat? You know, do you know what your triggers are? You know, some people eat as comfort. Some people eat stress relief, some people eat because, oh, you’re in the wrong environment, you know, when you eat in this environment, and now they’re telling me about it. And oh, you know, you seems you logged 2000 calories after you happen to have three beers last night.

This correlation through eating and doesn’t mean you can’t have those beers. Just make sure you’re mindful of what you’re eating when you do it. Anyhow, my point was, they got inside my head, and then all of a sudden, at 10 o’clock in the morning, I hear my phone go off. And I know exactly what it is it is Noom asking me what I have for breakfast. And I didn’t didn’t have to look at my phone. And so that’s just a little example of how they got inside my head. And and then then of course, you know, once you start those habits, you understand the habits, you can do that. So I looked at that. And then I looked at what Intricon is a big diabetes supplier, we do lots of diabetes products for a big, big company. And I looked at a couple of other areas. And I started drawing a correlation between that. And hearing, you know, nobody wants a hearing aid there’s a stigma, you know, represents age, they aren’t easy to adjust you because you got to go through a little training, if you want to be good, and the importance of Audio, Audio rehabilitation, we’re all starting to figure that out. But I began to realize that the OTC winner was going to be the the company that figured out how to go along the journey and educate the person. So you say, oh, you know, make sure that when you have your new hearing aid, you know, if you’re going to go into a restaurant, yeah, they’re going to help but make sure you pick the right spot to sit, you know, make sure that you you talk to the people around you and educate them that look if they’re going to turn you back to me, I can’t hear you and, and all the things that we as professionals, and you know, I look at the audiologist and the hearing dispenser, and I think they got to have so much talent, they got to do so many things, right? You know, they got to understand the technology and the medicine, the science, they got to understand how to run a business but a big part of dealing with that customer is dealing with the psychology and that’s what’s kept other people from being successful. And you know, where that all leads to from an OTC standpoint is what’s kept OTC or DTC in my case, because I’ve engaged with numerous DTC companies over the years from being successful is the return rate, right? return rate is a killer, you know, all sudden, you get 40% back. And that’s not a good business model. No matter how many you sell, you’ve got two things, you’ve got high cost, and you’ve also got unsatisfied users. So we’ve got to get onto both of those things. In this psychology and embracing the patient will do that, in my opinion in a different way. That’s exactly what the professional does. They engage with that prefer that patient all the way along. They fit them, they understand them, they do a bank of test, then they then they put their hand on their shoulder and say I’m really going to help you because I care and they and they do. And I’ve got tons of friends who care a lot and do a great job. I just want to expand that to a broader group because I think it’s in the best interest of everybody. And I also think it’s in the best interest honestly of

Dave Kemp 19:56
the profession. Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot to unpack here. So I … No, no you didn’t at all. That was fantastic. I love the personal story too. I think that really resonates. Because I think that’s, you know, for anybody that’s followed with, with a lot of my thinking through my blog or my podcast FuturEar, this has been a lot of kind of what I’ve been trying to get at, which is, you know, 2014 with the Resound Linx and the first Made for iPhone hearing aids, that was such a game changer. And it wasn’t because the you know, you were, the reason that was such a game changer was because you basically brought the hearing aid into a much broader internet connected ecosystem. And so the first wave was the programmable apps that they had. So you had all the hearing aid manufacturers sort of simultaneously from I would say, like the last seven years, have been iterating, to the point to where they’re making sure that their devices are as compatible with as many different Bluetooth protocols in different handsets different smartphones, on the hardware side, and then on the software side, making it so that they have these apps that are more and more robust, more capable. And the next phase of it is going to be about integrating broader ecosystem type things. And I think this the the example that you made there, and I think for anybody that’s listening, that really, you know, a lot of the information that you consume, about, you know, what’s kind of going on in the world, if it’s limited to just this industry, I would really suggest looking at some of these companies that he’s talking about, you know, Noom headspace, calm, you know, just to name a couple, where, you know, what they’re really looking at is how do we how do we basically get the a lifestyle change? How do we start to really create a, like, it’s a two fold thing. One is we’re going to log a longitudinal data set, so you’re gonna have your own personalized data, that is logging some element of your life. So it could be your mental health, it could be your diet, it could be the exercise that you do, it could be some of the different biometrics like your heart rate, right. So, you know, historically, in order to kind of get a good understanding of what your blood pressure, for example, look like, you would go to the doctor and you do the blood, you know, the blood pressure, you know, with the cuff and all that. And you get like two readings a year now we have devices like an Apple Watch, that are being able to have the ability to capture that on the minute every hour of you know, your your life more or less. So you create this very, very robust longitudinal data set. So this is what’s happening, like, broadly speaking right now with wearables is that they’re turning into, and these apps, they’re all kind of turning to data capture devices of your own, you know, basically your own psychology or your your anatomy, like whatever it might be, and what’s going to come next is going to be layering on proactive insight into that. So it’s just like you said, with Noom, where you get deeper and deeper into the nudges, where they start to kind of understand, okay, you’re, you’re consistently eating late in the night, you know, that’s not necessarily good to do before you go to bed, maybe we should trigger it so that you start eating earlier in the day. Okay, so how does this apply to our world? Well, it applies in our world, because the ear is the portal into the brain, the ear is the you know, basically, the hub that is going to make so much of this run much in the same way that the wrist is for a lot of the biometric monitoring, a lot of the psychology, a lot of the emotional data is probably going to be captured, whether it be in your air pods, or in something like a hearing aid. And so I think that what’s fascinating is to start to think about these devices as a much broader, a much broader focal point into an ecosystem that is laden with all kinds of interesting applications. And you think about the patient demographics. So you have things like, you know, being able to monitor the acoustic data and see, are you going into any challenging acoustical situations, you know, kind of looking at it more in the lens of maybe cognitive health and looking at, you know, we know these to be detrimental things, you’re not engaging with anybody, you know. So it’s, it’s a lot of that kind of stuff, where, to your point, I’m not really sure that like the winner of the OTC market necessarily is going to be like the the lowest cost device, you know, it’s not going to just be another hearing aid that is $400 instead of $500. What it’s likely going to be are going to be these ecosystem plays. And the device becomes then kind of table stakes. Yes, of course, you’ll

have premium offerings, especially when it comes to a use case like hearing loss, where you have levels of severity that warrant, more hardware processing and so on. But a lot of this kind of, I think, will ultimately boil down to what does this do for me in my life, you know, like my overall lifestyle, and I think there’s so much potential You’ll hear when we think about a population that is already sort of outfitting themselves within the year devices, you see it with AirPods. And this is going to continue, where you’re just going to have this norm, that people wear these things for extended periods of time. And you start to layer on lots of interesting new use cases and applications through various integrations. It’s just to me, we’re at a really beginning part of an entirely new paradigm within this space, which is, it’s not really about just hearing loss, hearing loss is one facet, it might be the most important facet for some, but it’s just one part of it, it’s now a much broader set of use cases that can be tailored and geared toward with these devices.

Delain Wright 25:47
I think you’re touched on and there’s so many directions, we can go, as far as, you know, asking the patient, you know, hey, we can tell you didn’t put your hearing aids on yesterday, you know, and then then what I think the most important is the education, you know, making people understand why they have to wear these hearing aids, that’s what the audiologist or the dispenser does is they say, look, you’re not going to adjust to these you’ve been without this sound. And we all know the, the process they go through. But we’ve got to figure out how to do that in a in a, you know, efficient way where everybody gets the whole story as much as they need. We engage them until they finally they give up and they said yes, you’re right. I do do better with my hearing. So back to one point, I I really believe that in the end, we’ve all been frustrated with the delay of OTC it’s kind of like how in the world can you pass a law and then it doesn’t even happen for an additional two years..? Yeah. But But I think in the end, what what has happened is the people who are customers, I mean, the the senior, have in the last two years, all of a sudden come to terms with what we’re doing now. You know, they all got grandkids, they Zoom with. You know, they all mean, know what a QR code is they all are realizing these things can. They all see their doctor over Zoom. So why wouldn’t they see their audiologist, even if it’s a bot, over Zoom, you know. So I think it’s really going to end up in our favor. And the the switch or the swing to acceptance of OTC is going to be dramatic. I think our biggest problem could be figuring out how to manufacture them fast enough.

Dave Kemp 27:28
Yeah, well, so there’s the… Yeah, exactly. There’s a couple. There’s a couple of interesting things that you said there, though, because I think that if I were watching this, and I may, am I, and I’m a professional, I might be thinking, well, what am I going to be out of a job? And I think that, first and foremost, you got to understand like, the answer is no, absolutely not, I actually think that this grows the demand for your services more than anything, because at the end of the day, you’re going to have a portion of people that will be very much do it yourself Self fit, that portion exists in everything. So you have to assume that it’s going to take place in this industry as well. And so some of the OTC clientele, if you will, will be will fall in that bucket. But I think that going off of like this whole idea of there being a broader ecosystem, you know, a lot of this is going to be, you know, the device might really be doing a good job of gathering that and helping to kind of nudge along lifestyle changes. But I think where the professional can really stand the game with this as they can kind of see then, you know, I envision in the future, I’ve had this conversation with Kat Penno, who’s with Nuheara now have like these basically health coaches, where you basically you’re taking a look at a year’s worth of data, or six months worth of data since the last time that you’ve had a chance to talk with this patient. And you look at a lot of what’s happening with data sharing right now, the HIPAA compliance fears are starting getting kind of get broken down, because a lot of companies like Apple are doing a really good job with being the mediator of this information. So you could totally see how you log this information in your device, it gets stored in Apple Health, and then it can be shared across to your medical professional. So your audiologist could literally be seeing some different indications throughout, you know that last time that they’ve had a chance to talk with you. And it tells a story. And that story really informs them into the better way in which you should be treating this person. So you get you get such a clearer picture of what’s gone on rather than you know what’s going on today where it’s like, so tell me about your experience with this. And they’re all frustrated. And they’re trying to kind of anecdotally refer to all the different frustrations when you actually have the data in front of you and you have all these markers in there where you can really see, okay, well you’re frustrated here in this, you know, it seems to be that every day, you know, you say that you’re frustrated at work and you know, so you’re able to kind of maybe give them different suggestions on you know, whether it’s an augmentation with a different piece of equipment or an application that you can be using something that can help enhance that particular situation that they’re running into all the time, I just think that this whole idea where you as the professional would be more equipped with data and information into what’s actually going on with your patient opens a myriad of new doors. And I just think that to your point, a lot of this could be facilitated by a bot, it can be done through just the AI that’s going to be living within the applications and in in the in the hardware itself. But I think that that’s, that’s going to appease some people, I think a lot of people will want the personal touch that comes along with this is my this is my audiologist. And I think the exciting part is you actually are starting to see sort of a scenario being formed right now, where the audiologist is much, it’s twofold. On one hand, they’re going to, I think, be a higher relevance in the broader healthcare ecosystem. Because I think that they’re suddenly, you know, if you have a heart rate monitor that’s baked into one of these OTC devices, a cardiologist suddenly has a new vested interest in you because you are now -you basically fit a new modality, that might be the heart rate sensor that their patient needs to have. So there’s lots of different examples like that where different medical professionals, specialty doctors, general physicians, have a new vested interest in what’s going on at the ear as the entry point into the brain. The other is that I think you just have, you basically elevate yourself to been not just about hearing loss, but it’s the psychology of this. And it’s a lot of the secondary effects. That you know, the isolation, the loneliness, a lot of these things and, and being able to help steer along healthier behaviors that we know to be so detrimental to things like cognitive decline, and, and a lot of the dementia fears and all of that.

Delain Wright 31:51
Yep. And I completely agree with you that we should be, the audiologist should be embracing with lots of other specialties, because there’s so many things, whether it’s balance or tinnitus, there’s, you know, different things. The other thing that I do believe that the successful OTC the winner will be and I think we’re going to find lots of people out there. And also we’re going to find somebody that kind of kind of takes the lead, but it’s going to be someone who embraces multi ways to get to you, a little like the banking.

Dave Kemp 32:20
Yes, omni channel. Yep

Delain Wright 32:24
And, you know, I’ve, I’ve had that opinion from the beginning. And you know, While I know a lot of people may not like everything I say, I have maintained a lot of good friends in this industry that even though they don’t like it. They’ll, they’ll nudge me and say, Yeah, we know, we know, you’re, you know, you’ve been around too long, we can’t get rid of you. And, and they know it’s changing. Now, but but the one thing I have done all the way through and whether it was with the launch of EarVenture, which we tried to do an OTC price based product through the professional, or whether it’s other DTCs, where we said, Great, let’s refer out and let’s get a relationship early on. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been embraced real well. But I think it’s going to have to happen. And I think it’s going to come and one other thing that I am a big believer in that will be successful. determine success is the company who figures out on the front end of OTC who, who the right patients are, who do front end testing, whether whether it’s using some type of cognitive test, or whether they ask other series of questions, whether they determine middleware function is it really, is you’re really, really working, if it’s not, and you can do that online, just like you can elsewhere. Even there’s even companies doing video otoscopy, you know, I know Google’s looking at that right now, you know, the one who figures that out, and then figures out the relationship to go to other places, I will be a big winner, because you know what, we’ve got to get that return rate down, we’ve got to make sure we have satisfaction to this channel. Because that that’s the big driver, you know, if people turn the product because they’re not happy. Yeah, that OTC thing didn’t work. You know, we’ve got keep people in the seat, and we’ve got to make the hearing aid stick, not just for the money, but but for their satisfaction.

Dave Kemp 34:13
Yeah, no, I completely agree. I think it you know, obviously, the last thing you want, again, is a scenario where people opt in. Okay, this is a little bit less expensive than what I had been previously offered. So they opt for, you know, a $500- $700 device. But it’s the same thing where for whatever reason, they they ultimately decide to put it in the drawer and not use it or return it. And so I think it’s a matter of combating that. And that I think will take time because I agree with you. I think it’s a matter of setting the right expectations in identifying the right I guess the right solution per each patient. I get you know, I want to touch on sentibo for a little bit because I know that that’s, that’s in the news as well with what you all are doing and so I want to give you a chance to kind have explained that because it ties in directly to what you just said there, in this idea of kind of having it be, you know, as you follow out this trend of self fit, I mean, you have to ultimately understand that, that is a innovation in its in and of itself. And it’s only going to continue to get more robust and more capable and what, what that can ultimately do from a selfish standpoint. And so sentibo I know is kind of on the forefront of that. So do you want to describe a little bit about what sentibo is and some of the breakthroughs that you’ve had?

Delain Wright 35:28
Yeah, absolutely. So just as kind of an overview, you know, sentibo is based on a well established framework of hearing a science called psychoacoustics. So we’re really determining as loudness versus intensity. And we do that in a very unique way. And the goal is not it’s not played software solutions, it’s complete software test of your hearing. And we use running speech in very complicated noisy environments. And it’s, it can, it’s very efficient, we, in about three minutes can come up with what would be equivalent, or better fitting protocol for a hearing aid. With just someone listening to speech, picking the best choice, and the sciences is very deep, and I don’t we won’t go too much into it. But you know, it’s, it’s something where we’ve, we’ve been working on this for a long time. We’re well in the process, we’ve gone through the usability and just as in the last couple of days, we’ve reached the institutional approval so that we can move on into the clinical, so we’re well into that we’re well planned for it. And at that, you know, when we get a little further into the clinical or once, maybe once we get past the next hurdle, which we don’t expect to take too long. I love to bring somebody back who can walk you through the science. I you know, David Akbari, who has been, we’ve been involved together since the beginning of OTC and he’s been extremely involved with the OTC I think, would be a delightful guest for you. He’s, he really understands this stuff deep. And he presents it in a very clear way. So let me know, I’m certainly welcome. Willing to come back or send him your, so when we’re ready, maybe I’ll reach out to you

Awesome. Well, I think it’s good to know that like, another thing that Intricon is doing is, you know, with the basically creating a self fit test that

yeah, and this, this test will be a way that, you know, we can put, we can put this in the right, other software programs, it’ll give more efficiency, it’s a little more user friendly than your, you know, some of the some of the tests that are FDA approved, they’re good tests, but this also is a good test for the purposes of fitting the hearing aid.

Dave Kemp 37:45
Yeah. So and I think that kind of kind of closes the loop here, which is, you know, this is coming, and you’re going to have a lot of these devices are going to have things like self fit tests, programmed inside of them, you’re going to have that option. You know, I think you said it well, which is the the interest of this whole thing has been about the patient. And I think that there is maybe my personal opinion is that the the fears that this is somehow going to replace the professional or somehow make the current offering irrelevant is the furthest thing from the truth. I think it actually stands to really strengthen all of this, I think that it’s just that we’ve we have to understand how how paltry the adoption of Hearing Solutions has been, historically, when we know this to be something that is so pervasive globally, you know, it’s, it’s a problem literally in every single part of the world. And it’s, you know, we live in a time now where our populations continuing to get older, live longer in life. And so it’s just something that I think we have to tackle in dramatically new ways. And I think this is the start of it. I mean, I think that the regulatory the regulatory piece is important. However, I kind of personally think that the technology will probably just work itself out in such a way. And and I think it’s good, actually, that the FDA is actually now sort of setting the rules and saying, Look, this is the game, the game has changed. There’s now all kinds of new opportunity for new players to get involved. I agree with you, I think that the software space might honestly be a lot more interesting in time, because I think the hardware is gonna kind of become table stakes, you know, at least for this portion of the market, which is this mild to moderate portion. And so I think that, you know, this conversation about the broader ecosystem, the platform that caters to that you know, being able to integrate into these you know, peripheral applications like a Calm you know, I think you just saw the the sponsorship or the partnership they have with LeBron. You know, like, these are billion dollar companies, digital health companies that are, they have huge footprint. So you honestly might see people come into their, you know, their first hearing aid or something that’s akin to it actually through Calm or through these different companies because it’s like, you know, I need to have, I want to be able to have, you know, I want all of these other things that come along with the device, like having this assistant in my head that’s giving me nudges about, you know, it’s time to do a meditation or whatever it might be that they get into, there’s a giant amount of things that they’re trying to tackle that goes way beyond meditation that, like you said, explores into mental health and really trying to kind of, I think, cater to the broader population. So that’s the themes that I’m kind of thinking about right now that I think are going to make, make or break the winners, like you said, I think there won’t be one, I think there will be many winners in this space. Because I think that you’re going to have a lot of different kinds of offerings that appeal to different demographics. And ultimately, my hope is that we see a whole hell of a lot more people start to get an interested in actual interest in in approaching this, rather than feel as if they’re obligated, and it’s the 7 to 10 year gap where it’s gotten so bad that it’s like, they’re resentful that they even have to come and see you. It’s going to be people that are excited to see and what comes from that complete inversion, I think a lot of positive.

Delain Wright 41:35
Absolutely, absolutely. And just to pick up on a couple of things you said, you know, for all the criticism that the FDA has taken in so many ways, and they continue to take, I actually believe they’ve gotten this one, right. And so I’m really, really pleased with the what they came up with the other thing, you know, I have had a bit of a global experience, because I’ve had an opportunity to sell hearing aids just all around the world, you know, and hearing aids sold in about 40 different countries under value hearing product. But one thing that’s clear to me just based on interactions I’ve had from people around the world is everybody’s watching what’s happening right now, with the OTC legislation in the States, they don’t deal with the same regulation. They also will look at this and say, right, this is a viable solution. And we can in a credible way, and I think credibility is key here, you know, these the fact that the FDA did this came out and said, Yes, this is a credible way for you to get real care, just like dealing with mental health and all these other specialties, I think will have a huge impact. And so I actually think, I think we’re in for some exciting times, I think we’re gonna see huge growth in the whole industry. I mean, everybody says that, but I certainly believe I believe

Dave Kemp 42:53
I do, too. I do, too. I maybe I’m just an eternal optimist, who knows. I’m excited, I think that I think that you know, this review period will be good, we’ll be able to hash out I think, as an industry, the things that we really feel strongly need to be revised. But by and large, I think that what we’re going to see is an expansion in the market, I feel very strongly about that. And I think that we are, you know, not too far away from it really starting to come into fruition. And this, I just continue to believe that the secondary effects of a, of an expanding market, present a lot of really interesting things that I think will be advantageous to just about every entity in this industry, so long as they’re willing to seize them. I think if you just adhere to the status quo, and just kind of head in the sand, like this is how I’ve always done business. I wish the best for you. I really hope that you’re able to make that succeed. But I think the people that really do embrace this and find a way to make this a part of their more holistic offering, I think will do so, so well into the future. So that’s all I got. Thoughts. Yeah, one

Delain Wright 44:01
one thing, I think is right in line with that. I do believe that, you know, this has been a bit of a battle back and forth as far as the OTC legislation, but I think there’s been a lot of different leaders and organizations that have probably sat on the sidelines a bit. Because they, they, you know, you don’t want to get it wrong. But I think now the legislations out now, if they say yes, this is going through, I think we’re going to see a lot of a lot of really powerful endorsement of this model. So I think that helped them because, you know, it is, I mean, I mentioned it’s all about credibility, you know, I’ll send there’s credibility in the OTC space. couldn’t agree more. That’s all I got.

Dave Kemp 44:44
Awesome Delain. This has been so so much fun, always great chatting with you. Hope to see you in the not too distant future at one of these shows. So thanks for everybody who tuned in here. We will chat with you next time.

Delain Wright 44:56
A great to see you Dave. Thank you so much.

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About the Panel
With many years of senior level management experience to back him, Delain Wright is a leader in a quickly changing value based hearing aid market. Over the past three decades he has been at the forefront of the hearing industry working with the NHS, direct-to-consumer markets, OTC, existing traditional models and government legislation. With advances in technology putting more control in the hand of the consumer it is Delain’s goal to be a leader in the value based hearing market by providing insight to companies providing greater accessibility and affordability to millions in need. Delain feels, “ In the next five years we will see the most dramatic change ever in hearing care coupled with new technology and the emerging Hearables market. All of this combined with the dramatic increase of people suffering from age related hearing loss and desire to have better hearing will drive increased hearing wellness.”

Dave Kemp is the Director of Business Development & Marketing at Oaktree Products and the Founder & Editor of Future Ear. In 2017, Dave launched his blog,, where he writes about what’s happening at the intersection of voice technology, wearables and hearing healthcare. In 2019, Dave started the Future Ear Radio podcast, where he and his guests discuss emerging technology pertaining to hearing aids and consumer hearables. He has been published in the Harvard Business Review, co-authored the book, “Voice Technology in Healthcare,” writes frequently for the prominent voice technology website,, and has been featured on NPR’s Marketplace.


About HHTM

HHTM's mission is to bridge the knowledge gaps in treating hearing loss by providing timely information and lively insights to anyone who cares about hearing loss. Our contributors and readers are drawn from many sectors of the hearing field, including practitioners, researchers, manufacturers, educators, and, importantly, hearing-impaired consumers and those who love them.

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