In this episode, Bob Traynor sits down with Dr. Annie Duchen from WS Audiology to take a closer look at the WSA-Sony partnership and what it means for consumers with hearing loss. They discuss the latest products that have emerged from their collaboration: the CRE-C10 and the CRE-E10.
They explore some of the key features found in Sony’s OTC devices that hearing care professionals should be familiar with, get an overview of the self-fit functionality within the Sony mobile app, and delve into the crucial role of OTC product support for hearing professionals and their patients.
Welcome to this week in Hearing. Hello, I’m your host, Bob Traynor for this episode, where we are to discuss the partnership with WS Audiology nd Sony, today. my guest is Annie Duchen from WS Audiology to tell us about this new partnership. Welcome to this week in hearing. Annie. And thanks for being with us today. Thank you. I’m happy to be here. So, before we get into the nitty gritty and the very detailed kinds of things about our topic for today, can you give me a little bit about your journey into audiology and the move to WSA and then your role in the WSA Sony partnership? Yeah, absolutely, Bob. So I’m a clinical audiologist by background, so I actually started my career as a pediatric audiologist in a children’s hospital. And so I’ve always been passionate about reducing barriers to care for people and high quality support. So that’s where my journey as an audiologist started. When it comes to my role at WSA, I wanted to carry that theme through, but in a new way, which is how I ended up supporting the OTC or over the counter hearing aid team exclusively. And so my job here at WS Audiology is that I’m the senior manager of customer success for the Sony OTC products, and so I work exclusively on the Sony and WSA partnership. So when I first started, I helped support build what is now our Sony product support line, which we’ll hopefully get to talk a little bit more about later. And now on a daily basis, I help maintain that as well as support any education around the Sony OTC products. It’s always great to see clinical people that have journeyed into industry because of course it gives you the orientation with industry and research and development and so on, but I think it really strengthens the manufacturers as they look for the detail that all of us in Audiology bring to that area. So Sony is known really worldwide for innovation and quality and certainly reliability. We’ve all had Sony products over the years, maybe TVs or even the old Walkman. I think I had one of those. It was a Sony, and it probably still works now. So, Annie, tell me a little bit about the strength of WS Audiology’s partnership with Sony and the benefits that this partnership will offer to hearing care professionals and their patients. Together with Sony, we see OTC as an opportunity to get safe and high quality hearing devices and more ears of more people sooner. We really hope that OTC will be the catalyst for these questions and this thought and this education around what can I do about my hearing loss instead of people waiting and seeing what happens until they have a bigger problem? The goal of OTC, and our goal together is to make hearing aids more accessible, more acceptable, and easy for people to use in their day to day life. It’s one of those skills that seems to go with Sony and other like companies that they can often take a product and digest it into a very beneficial kind of an instrument, whether it’s a hearing aid or a car or some other kind of a product, and end up with something that actually works better than the original in many respects. Or at least you have some semblance of quality and benefit and all those things that go along with the WSA products as well as going along with a consumer oriented product. So WS Audiology has had a very strong brand in the prescription space for many years now, and of course, Sony has a historical consumer tech space over many years. Why does the complementary interaction of both of these brands matter so much for hearing care professionals and their patients? Bob that’s a great question. So when it comes to WSA and Sony, our combined strengths are really what bring the value to hearing care professionals and consumers, or people looking for over the counter products. Our goal was to create over the counter products that are safe, they’re high quality, they’re effective for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. And in order to do that, we knew we had to create products that have features that support those things, right? So we have safety features built into our self fitting process. And we also have some features within the devices, like feedback management or ways that they can customize level or sound quality to ensure that it is a unique experience for the OTC wearer the OTC concept has been around for a very long time, and I can remember in the 90s people talking about OTC hearing aids and people would go, oh no, we don’t want to go there. I’ve always been of the opinion that OTC will augment a practice rather than be deterrent. And why? Because we always have a lot of patients who come in and we do evaluations and we talk to them about what to do and so on. As you say, many people wait seven to ten years before they do anything about their hearing, and they walk right out the front door and we might not see them for another five years or so. And these kinds of products not only add to what we do as audiologists, but it also adds to the advertising that we get. And my experience with discussions with colleagues over the last few months is that they have never been busier. And the reason they’re busier is because of the advertising on one side, but the other side is to investigate some possible over the counter products through a clinic which they feel will know about those kinds of products. Right. Anyway, Bob, you actually bring up a really good point, which is that this new market is already really saturated with lots of products labeled as OTC products, right? But they’re not all FDA registered 510K certified self fitting devices. Right. There’s a variety in quality, and it’s challenging already for the consumer to know what is a safe and high quality choice. And that’s part of the importance of considering partnerships like ours, where we have goals that these products end up in the right people’s ears. Right. We want them to end up in the ears of people with mild, moderate hearing loss. And for those people who want this more independent journey and are ready to start something sooner, great. Well, now, tell me a little bit about these products. These are not the Signia products or some of the other products that we know. Not the widex products either. So tell me a little bit about the Sony products. I understand it’s the E10 and the C10 and maybe the ABC-10. I’m not sure, but let’s see. Tell us a little bit about these instruments and what they do and how they work. Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, it’s important to call out these are uniquely different products. They were designed with the concept of prescription hearing aids in mind not to think about prescription versus OTC hearing aids, but to think about OTC versus OTC hearing aids. Right. We wanted to make sure we were delivering a very high quality option that’s sound quality and features for our first go at OTC products. So you’re right. Our portfolio has two products. The CRE-C10, which I call the C10 for short, and the CRE-E10, which we. We call E10 for short. So let’s start with the C10. The C10 is a completely in the canal style. It was designed specifically in mind for those who want some support from a hearing aid, but still have some cosmetic concern. So it’s that very discreet, nearly invisible style, sits flush in the ear canal. And the E10 is a product more earbud style. It has a few more features for that person who’s looking to get more out of their products than just the hearing aid capabilities. So it’s rechargeable. It has a really long battery life of 26 hours on a single charge, plus a charging case that holds two to three charges. It does streaming with iOS devices. It has some option for automatic or manual directionality that the user or patient could customize within. And when we think about both these products, we intentionally came out with two because we know people have different needs from what they want from their devices. And we wanted to make sure we had an option based on people’s main priorities. The one other thing that’s important to call out is both devices. In order to do that, what we call that self-fitting process that set up process, you need to use a smartphone or a tablet. And they’re both compatible with iOS devices and Android devices for all hearing aid functionality. And that’s really important because it’s not true, actually, for all OTC devices out there. And so that was another thing that we did to make sure we had good accessibility to our OTC devices. So there’s lots of options. Right? And the way I would think about it if I was in a clinic today and I had both the C10 and the E10 is that you can know that they both support someone with a mild to moderate hearing loss. So I would offer based on what their primary concern or want is. Right? If they’re someone who comes in right away asking about rechargeability and streaming, then the E10 is what I would talk about. If they’re coming in a little timid about the way hearing aid looks, some of that stigma concern, but they know they need some help. I would start with that C Ten device and one call out due to the c10 smaller size, as we know as professionals, there’s only so much you can fit in a small device. So that device does use size 10 batteries. So once I buy my Sony products, then I just go either to the Apple store or the Play store. And there’s an app there that I can use to set up the instrumentation. Yeah, it’s called the Sony Hearing Control App. Okay. It sounds like the E10 is not only a hearing aid, but it’s also kind of what we’ve often called a hearable in the past, where you can use them like these, you can use them in a number of other places to augment your day. Use of them as well as be able to hear well, yes. So it maintains all the functions of the hearing aid and then on top of that, you get some of those extra things like the automatic directionality or the streaming from iOS devices, but it’s doing the hearing aid things in the background still too. Oh, cool. Now I understand that it’s kind of a self fit device. So how do I go about self fitting with this particular issue? Kind of walk us through that a little bit and see how we can see a little bit about how you go about using the device. Yeah, absolutely. So we kind of already started that conversation of what that journey looks like. Right. You open up your devices, you either put the batteries in the C10, the E10 does come with a bit of charge that you could do your setup process with, but we always recommend a full charge for optimum connection and usability. And then what you would do after you download the app, you’d create something called a Sony ID. It’s a login to get into the app. Once you do that, you choose, do I have a C10 or an E10? And then the app that will walk you through exactly what to do in the self fitting process. So each screen of the app will tell you exactly what you need to do in that moment to prepare either for setup or pairing or what we call the hearing check of your devices. So what it will do is have you pair your left hearing aid and your right hearing aid separately and you will also do a separate what we call in the app hearing profile check, which means basically an In-situ audiogram. So you have the devices in your ear one at a time and you’re counting how many beeps you hear. So this is a cool part about our technology. So in the background of the app there’s a really smart algorithm seeking threshold information across the frequency range. But for the user looking down at the app, all they have to do is listen to the beeps and put that they’ve heard zero, one, two or three beeps. And it’s going to do that for a series of frequencies. And then at the end, the app is going to use that information to set some initial baseline settings for the user. This is something the user doesn’t change. This is part of the smart app algorithm that does this work based off of thousands of audiograms researched for this purpose. And it assigns those settings for the user. They just see a screen that says apply settings. And then after that, the user or patient has several ways that they can customize the devices within the app. So they can customize things like overall loudness. There’s a remote control section for situational adjustments. That’s where you would find the directionality changing for the E10. And then there’s also a section called fine tuning, which is nothing like hearing care professionals do in the clinic. But what it does do is allow the user to bring up. Specific category where they might want to change in sound quality, for example. And the app will provide them a predetermined solution, one at a time to actually listen to in real time. And they can either choose to keep those changes or discard them. And they’ll get up to six options depending on the category. So what you really see from the app is this combination of the smart app kind of working and in a user friendly way first, and then the user or patient getting an opportunity to customize it based on their sound quality and level preferences after that. Wow. Sounds like a pretty sophisticated type of product, even if it is an over the counter kind of instrument. Now it is sophisticated. And actually one thing, Bob, I’ll add all of that that I just explained takes the user about 10 minutes, right? So if they don’t get stuck somewhere along the way, it takes about 10 minutes. And like I mentioned, each page of the app screen tells them exactly what they need to do. So there’s no guesswork for them along the way, they’re given all the instructions they need to be successful for the setup. Great. So in our previous discussion before we went on the air, we talked a little bit about your involvement in the support system and how all that came to be. And I know there’s always some ins and outs of support systems. Do I have all the phones hooked up? Do I have all the stuff set up? Do I have all the ducks lined up to be able to make these changes and handle each and every one of the patients? So how did that go and what’s all involved in the support system for the WSA Sony device? Yeah, great question. So our support system is really comprehensive and for that reason I think very successful. So I’ll walk you through how it exists today and how we’ve designed it and why. I think it’s one of the best examples of the WSA and Sony partnership at work. So when we developed these products, of course the goal was that it would be an independent journey, right? But we knew that different people would need help different times throughout the process. So the first thing that we spent a lot of effort on creating was this online support site. So on the Sony support page, there’s a whole OTC hearing aid page dedicated specifically to this topic, has extensive FAQs available. It also has a significant amount of instructional videos, both about the C10 and the E10, and some videos about things like the experience of being a new hearing aid user, what that’s like and what that can feel like for somebody. So we figure if we really have someone who’s an independent learner, that’s where they’re going to start. If they need help, they have plenty of resources, they can dig through there. Now, if someone wanted live support, this is. Where our multi-tiered? Customer support team comes in. We have two tiers and they answer call, chat or SMS. And what they do when someone calls in, the first people they talk to are Sony sound agents. These are agents that have previously worked on other Sony hearable products, but who were trained specifically to work with the over the counter hearing aid products. Now, that was a lot of technical training, but it was all about soft skills training related to how do you communicate with somebody with hearing loss, right? What do you do if you have a communication breakdown? How can you ensure successful communication? So they’ve been really trained to support these frontline calls and spend a lot of time helping with setup or troubleshooting or pairing, which I know as a hearing care professional, I spent a lot of time on in the clinic. And so it’s nice to have some experts that handle that first. And then we have our escalated tier two support. These are two WSA audiologists who can do everything that tier one can do. But they also support additional questions around counseling for success with the Sony OTC products. So we get a lot of people who these Sony OTC products are their first hearing aid they’ve ever tried. And they will call in with really typical new hearing aid concerns like my voice sounds funny or My ear feels plugged, right? And they need that extra support to understand. Let’s first rule out that there’s not something happening with your device, right? But also, then this is normal. And here’s why as a new hearing aid user and they also support with eligibility questions. So if they along their conversation, find that they don’t think that this person is an appropriate candidate for Sony OTC, they actually recommend that this person sees a hearing care professional. And this is super important because as I mentioned, it’s fundamental for us that these products end up in the correct ears for the correct people. And if they have them, we want to make sure they’re benefiting them. Right? And if they can’t benefit from these devices, which sometimes they can’t, right? People think they have a mild problem, but they don’t have a mild problem. Everybody thinks they have a mild problem. I know, right? I don’t have a big hearing loss, I just have a little hearing loss. They may have a 60 decibel loss and don’t ever talk to anybody and so they think they have a little hearing loss. But sorry to interrupt you, but I just thought that that was an interesting point because we’ve all seen it every day in the clinic. It’s exactly the point, right? And we knew this could happen because people are self identifying as having perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. Now, one thing I’ll just add in here, which is a helpful tip for our team, is that there are a couple of safety features built into the app and the self fitting process. So if someone has a greater than mild to moderate hearing loss or significant asymmetry between ears, they will get a pop up telling them to call customer service. And when they call customer service, the guidance they get is in the case of. More severe hearing loss, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to benefit from this device. We recommend you see a hearing care professional to have your hearing evaluated and understand your options. Right. And when it comes to the Asymmetry pop up, it’s about recommending seeing a hearing care professional or physician before proceeding. Because as we know, as professionals, that could be a red flag for something else going on. So those are some examples of what our Tier Two does. But what’s pretty awesome is that our whole team is called Sony Product Support. So every day, Sony agents and WSA agents are working together cohesively to support anyone who calls in with questions about the devices. That’s both for people using the devices, but also hearing care professionals who have questions about how it works or how it functions, or maybe they want to know how the app works well so they can support their patients. Now, it appears that we have a Sony device that is coordinated with WS Audiology, and it’s a high quality device with a lot of features and benefits and so on. We have over the counter products that start out at a couple hundred bucks and go up to $1,500. So what kind of a ballpark retail price would a consumer have to pay for the Sony products? Yeah, great question. So the C10 is $999.99 and the E10 is $1299.99. And part of what led us to that price, there are several things, but one is all the quality and research and safety features that go into those products. And that’s really what guided us to land there and make that offer for people. And my guess too is that an audiology clinic or other hearing care professional, if they’re interested in looking more seriously at the Sony products, would they just simply call their WS Audiology representative or call in just to WS Audiology? That’s a really good question. So right now, primarily the Sony OTC products are sold through Signia and Widex channels because that is who WS Audiology is, right. So if they had a Signia or Widex rep, that would be a place to start. If they didn’t have a Signia or Widex rep, but we’re still interested in more information, they could absolutely send us an email that would go to our OTC team and they could email us at [email protected], and we would help talk through their options for them and get them set up, if that’s what they were ready to do. Great. Well, this has been a very interesting discussion, Annie. And all of our colleagues that are out there listening to us, I hope that they will at least look at the WS Audiology Sony product as a possible over the counter product within their clinic. I hope so, too. And just to reiterate an earlier point, Bob, of course, the point is to eventually get these products on the ears of people who need them, right? But we understand that this is a new market that is growing and developing and there’s still a lot of questions out there, right? Even after some things like this, people might have more questions. And so I would really encourage anyone who even just wants more information and to better understand the Sony OTC product and what types of marketing and practice integration tools are out there, please feel free to contact us and we can go from there. Great. Well, today my guest has been Annie Duchen from WS Audiology discussing the partnership with WS Audiology and Sony, as well as the E10 and C10 products. So thanks so much for being with us today, Annie. And so all of you out there, watch it for other discussions and other episodes that happen on this Week in Hearing.
About the Panel
Annie Duchen, AuD, is a clinical audiologist by background and currently the Sr. Manger of Customer Success for the OTC team at WS Audiology. Annie is passionate about reducing barriers for patients to access high quality, safe and effective hearing loss treatments.
Robert M. Traynor, Ed.D., is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager and author. He has decades of experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. He serves as Adjunct Faculty in Audiology at the University of Florida, University of Northern Colorado, University of Colorado and The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.