Integrating OTC Hearing Aids into the Clinic – A Discussion with Dr. Annie Duchen of WS Audiology

sony otc hearing aids in audiology clinic
May 12, 2023

This week, Amyn Amlani discusses over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids and their integration into hearing healthcare practices. Our guest is Annie Duchen, AuD, the Senior Manager of Customer Success for the OTC team at WS Audiology.

They discuss the current OTC product offering now available through the Sony x WS Audiology partnership and the importance of personalized recommendations based on user priorities and preferences. Whether someone prioritizes discreet designs or seamless streaming capabilities, understanding the features of OTC devices plays a crucial role in guiding patients towards the most suitable options. The comprehensive support services provided as part of the OTC offering by WS Audiology and Sony aim to ensure a successful user experience for individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss. The support system consists of two tiers, with trained agents offering live assistance for technical queries and general troubleshooting, while audiologists provide additional counseling and guidance. If the OTC product is not suitable for a particular individual, the support team recommends seeking help from a hearing care professional. They have also incorporated additional safety features, including intelligent algorithms and a self-fitting process that alerts users if a particular product may not be suitable for them.

By providing OTC hearing aids and comprehensive support services, they aim to optimize audibility for users while also encouraging earlier adoption of hearing devices.

Full Episode Transcript

So, good afternoon.

My name is Amyn Amlani,

and I’m here with HHTM,

and I have the great pleasure of

speaking with Annie Duchen,

who is from WS Audiology.

And we’re going to talk today

about OTC hear aids and how

providers can help their

patients make the right choice

about their hearing care.

More specifically,

we’re going to cover the topics

of effectively integrating

OTC into one’s practice,

the strategies for having the

OTC conversation with patients,

choosing the right OTC

product for patients.

And we’re going to do that based

on the level of their hearing

loss, dexterity,

their literacy and so

forth and so on,

and the importance of OTC

product support to hearing

healthcare providers and their

patients. So, Annie,

thank you so much for being.

Here and let’s get right into

it. Yeah, thanks for having me.

I’m excited to be here.

So it’s now been about six

months since the FDA’s final

ruling on the OTC hearing aids.

What have we learned in

the recent months?

Anything notable or surprising?

Yeah, I’m so glad you asked.

This is a question we get

asked frequently,

and I think what we’re learning

is really exciting information,

the news,

which is that with OTC

users or customers,

we’re seeing that they are

starting their hearing health

journey sooner.

So the average age of OTC user

is about 59 years old,

and they’re starting that

journey about three to five

years after noticing they

have hearing loss,

instead of that seven to ten

years that we’ve seen.

Traditionally when it comes

to these users.

What we know about them so far,

things like affordability,


and a trusted brand name are

purchase drivers for

OTC products.

That’s interesting and.

You all just came out with

a new set of products.

Can you share that with the

audience, please? Yes,


So WS Audiology has partnered

with Sony to offer two over the

counter hearing aid solutions.

One is called the CRE-C10

We call the C10 for short.

And one is called the CRE-E10,

which we call the E10

for short. Now,

there’s two solutions so we can

help get at the priorities of

different users. For example,

the C10 is a small,

completely in the canal design.

It’s meant to be that sleek and

nearly invisible design for

somebody who has a concern,

maybe about cosmetics,

but still wants some support

with a hearing aid.

And then the E10 is

an earbud style,

and this is a rechargeable

device that offers Bluetooth


So both our products

are self fitting,

and you’re able to use Android

and iOS to do the self fitting

and setup process,

which helps them customize the

devices close to their

hearing loss.

That’s wonderful


So you’ve got these

products out now,

and how are you seeing hearing

healthcare providers incorporate

these devices into

their practices?

Yeah, that’s a great question.

I think we really see the

importance of and success that

comes with integrating are those

providers that are embracing

OTC in general.

So they’re seeing OTC as

a new opportunity,

either as a marketing

opportunity to bring in or to

lead in new people into their

offices or practices,

but also as a way to ensure that

they have a comprehensive


Of solutions for all people that

enter their clinic so they can

reduce the number of people that

are leaving without a solution

for their hearing loss.


So this new category of OTCs is

going to generate a new

type of practice.

Are you starting to see any new

types of best practices given

the OTCs entering this space?


if we think about those group

of providers hearing care

professionals that are embracing

the product,

the most success they’re having

when it comes to integrating

this product is trying to find

a place to start. Now,

we try to break this down in

a way that’s simple and

understandable that helps expand

their practice without

completely changing how

they’re doing things.

But there’s an opportunity

to offer OTC either

with provider consult,

which would be in the case of

someone’s in their chair and

they have mild moderate hearing

loss and for whatever reason,

a prescription hearing aid is

not the option they’ve

chosen or desire.

That’s a great time to bring up

OTC or since it’s an over

the counter product,

it can be discussed about and

offered either online or by

their front desk staff who

handles calls and walk ins

and things like that.

So that’s the other way they can

offer OTC hearing aids.

So when we think about providers

who are integrating,

they’re typically starting with

one option or the other and

seeing how that fits in with

their current practice model and

how they can help expand.

They’re offerings to people

walking in or calling

into their practice.

Well, that’s wonderful.

And how are these conversations

with patients taking place?

So it depends where they

decide to start, right?

If they decide to start.

Let’s say if we think about the

typical patient journey,

when someone walks

in or calls in,

their first interaction is with

that front staff person.

And so in that case,

those are the people having

those conversations.

If someone brings up OTC,

helping them understand very

quickly could they be eligible

for this type of product or

should they see a provider

for a consult?

And then in the case

of providers,

we’re working hard to help

educate them and help them

understand what types of needs

or traits a patient might bring

up that could hint to the

provider they could be a good

candidate for over the

counter hearing aids.

These could be things like

need or want for a different

journey than prescription

hearing aids.

They want a more convenient.

Maybe they’re seeking something

that has a different value than

prescription hearing aids offer.

So helping providers understand

that in the conversations

they’re already having,

if they can open up the way

they’re listening and some of

the questions they’re asking,

they’ll get a good idea pretty

quickly if OTC could be an

option for someone

in their chair.

So we just had the conversation

about the provider and the value

propositions which they offer.

So now let’s flip the script and

talk about what patients should

be aware of regarding the

differences between OTCs and

prescriptive devices.

Absolutely. So, WSA and Sony,

we do want to drive awareness

and understanding about hearing

health and the importance of

people doing something about

their hearing health sooner.

We want OTC to be a catalyst for

this conversation and help them

understand that they don’t need

to wait until they have a big

problem to do something about

their hearing health.

But we also know that many

consumers seek information and

especially detailed information.

Like what is the difference

between a prescription hearing

aid or an over the counter

device from hearing care

professionals? So in that way,

we’ve worked to support hearing

care professionals in finding

ways that they can explain

this to patients,

both that are succinct

and understandable.

And while we know as

professionals there are many

differences between

these products,

how can they do it in an

understandable way where it

doesn’t take up their

whole appointment?

So there’s simple language that

can be used to show that these

are different products.

They’re both safe products,

but there’s a different journey

that goes with them.

And for example,

prescription hearing aids

involves the hearing care

professional to tailor and

program the devices,

whereas the OTC devices

are a self fit,

more independent journey to

customize the products to

their hearing loss.


let’s bring the funnel down

a little bit more.

Let’s get into the weeds.

There’s a lot of different

products on the market.

How do we know which is

the right product for.

Specific patient?

That’s a great question.

I think it’s important to call

out that over the counter

hearing aids are specifically

designed for adults with

perceived mild to moderate

hearing loss.

So that’s where you have

to start, right?

You have to make sure you’re

eligible for the products before

you decide which one is

the right one for you.

It’s really important to

us that these products,

the Sony OTC hearing aids

end up in the right ears

for the right people.

We’ve done a lot of things

to ensure this,

that this safety and high

quality are top of mind.

And when you think about these

products and the importance of

the choice a consumer can make,

it’s important that they know

that they’re making a safe and

high quality choice. Now,

when it comes to our products,

some of those things that we’ve

ensured to include so that

safety and high quality are top

of mind are things like our

products are FDA registered

medical devices.

That means they follow all the

rules and guidelines for over

the counter hearing aids.

And in addition to that,

we’ve added extra safety

features within our app

and self fitting.


So beyond the packaging

that’s required right.

That notes medical red flags and

encourages people only to use

these products if they’re not

experiencing those things within

the fitting process.

We’ve also added in some smart

algorithm safety features that

will alert the user based on the

results of the hearing check or

the hearing test they do during

that self fitting process.

If this might not be the right

product for them and then they

get some support either from a

hearing care professional

or our support team,

to help them understand why and

what they should do next.

That’s really interesting.

And you brought up the

term features.

So what OTC features are

important to understand and

assess when making

a recommendation?

A recommendation from a provider

to a patient in terms of OTC?

Yes. Correct. Sorry.

Okay, no problem.

I think it’s a similar

conversation that you have when

you’re deciding any device

for somebody, right.

You first want to make sure

you want to understand.

What are their priorities and

features they’re looking for

in devices? For example,

if someone’s main priority

was cosmetics,

they wanted a nearly

invisible solution.

I would recommend the C10.


if I had another person

who came in and said,

my priority is that I want a

device that’s streaming and I

like to listen to my iPhone,

to media and things like that,

then I would recommend

the E10.

So knowing the differences

between the features that some

of these products offer and then

suggesting them based on the

patient’s needs and priorities

is the best way to help them

decide which is the best

option for them.

So now that we’ve talked

about safety,

we’ve talked about features,

let’s talk a little

bit about support.

And what’s the importance of

customer and product support

from your organization?

It’s super important.

So we know that the intention of

over the counter hearing aids is

for it to be an independent


We also know that independent

journey means different things

to different people.

And so we have a comprehensive.

Port set up to help people

along their journey.

So the first thing we

thought of is, okay,

if this is really that more

independent user who’s

purchasing the device,

they might be seeking support

in an independent way.

And so our Sony Product Support

site offers extensive Frequently

Asked Questions list as well

as instruction videos about

different ways to use or

interact with the product.

For example,

people how to get the batteries

in your C10 right or how to

clean your hearing aids,

things like that.

That these are public and

available to anyone and could be

used by consumers or providers

who are offering these devices

as support tools.

And then we know there are

people who are going to want

more support than that,

who will need live support.

And so we have two tiered live

support for either consumers

purchasers of these products or

for hearing care professionals

who might have questions about

the products as well.

So our tier one support and.

Our agents that were trained

specifically on these products

and how to work with and support

people with mild to moderate

hearing loss.

They spend a lot of the time

doing things that we as

providers probably spend

too much time doing,

like pairing Bluetooth


general app and phone use

questions, right?

So they’re really meant to help

the users with success with set

up with the devices and any

questions they have about

the technology.

And then we have tier two,

which are two audiologists,

and they can do everything

tier one does,

but the other things that they

do is support with general

counseling related to success of

the product and use of Sony

hearing aids. So for example,

we have people who will call in

and say they’re having a hard

time getting their

device paired.

Our tier one agent will sit on

until their device is paired,

get them through the hearing,

check that self fitting process,

and through the customization.

And they’re a new hearing

aid user.

So then they might say something

like, my voice sounds funny,

right? Which we as.

Providers know is a very typical

report of a new hearing

aid user.

And so that’s part of where our

Tier Two would step in and give

some counseling to why we expect

that as a new hearing aid user

or you have a CIC style and

here’s what that means.

And then lastly,

we’re really here to help find

a solution. And like I said,

ensure these end up

in the right ears.

So if there is any concern that

this product is not the right

product for someone that could

be related to their results on

the hearing profile check,

or maybe they’re alluding to

issues with dexterity challenges

with manipulating the devices,

we will tell the consumers that

you should go see a hearing

care professional.

It sounds like you could use

some additional support

in this journey.

So our goal is to ensure that

the people who have these

devices and are using them,

they’re using them in the most

optimal way for them them.

And if we find out that’s not

the right choice for them,

we want to make sure they do

end up with a solution,

because ultimately that’s

what we’re after, right?

Improving access and audibility

for people. With hearing loss.

It sounds like you all have

thought this thing completely


You have the complete journey

and ecosystem built out,

and that’s absolutely wonderful

for both the provider,

for the patient,

for the profession,

as we think about hearing

health care.

And as you pointed out earlier,

it’s moving the needle from

people waiting six and 7810

years before they adopt the

device to maybe an earlier date,

so to speak.

So thank you so much for these

insights and we look forward to

having you come back and share

with us more information and

more data as this OTC market

continues to evolve. Yeah,

thank you so much for

the time today.

It’s great to share what we’re

learning so far and looking

forward to sharing

what’s to come.

Great, thank you.


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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.


 Amyn M. Amlani, PhD, is President of Otolithic, LLC, a consulting firm that provides competitive market analysis and support strategy, economic and financial assessments, segment targeting strategies and tactics, professional development, and consumer insights. Dr. Amlani has been in hearing care for 25+ years, with extensive professional experience in the independent and medical audiology practice channels, as an academic and scholar, and in industry. Dr. Amlani also serves as section editor of Hearing Economics for Hearing Health Technology Matters (HHTM).

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