Looking To The Future of Hearing Care
I just spent the last few days at the inaugural British and Irish Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association conference in Birmingham. The conference theme was the future of hearing care.
While there was an exhibition hall that included all of the big manufacturers, the real draw was the two days of learning offered. I think most people enjoyed the presentations delivered which were focused on changing consumer habits, advancing technology and how they both may affect the provision of hearing care. I know I certainly did.
The keynote speaker, Dr James Bellini set the stage for the next two days with his presentation on innovation and the acceleration of technological innovation that is expected over the next few years.
I wish to speak about the presentation delivered by Curtis Alcock. Curtis gave an outstanding performance on disruption of industry and why a focus on product or process was destructive for any industry. Simply put, technology can easily be used to offer product or process in a better way. Any business that focuses on these factors as their proposition is open to innovative disruption.
He noted, however, that a business that serves aspirational needs or wants is not disrupted so easily. It is critical for any company focused on the aspirational to deliver solid customer experience.
He pointed out that it was imperative for us to understand that our role was to enable people to live their life fully. By allowing easy communication, we were enabling our customers to live a full and active life. He said that we should focus on that role and frame our terms of reference around it.
I agree wholeheartedly with Curtis, however, I am not as optimistic as he is. Curtis is sure that we have time to shape the future. I am not sure that our profession has the time or commitment to do it.
The Fat Lad Speaks
My brief for this presentation was to discuss the future client and their effect on our business. I felt I couldn’t do that without referencing the history of our profession and also the effect that differing technology may have on us as well.
I started my presentation with a succinct history of private hearing aid sales in the UK and Ireland. I spoke about the widening of our scope of practice to include ear care and tinnitus therapy and our increasing professionalism.
I also explained how all of this was undertaken with one clear goal in mind. The sales of hearing aids. I explained that our constant focus on the product had made our profession about nothing but the product.
Then I challenged everyone in the room to answer a question. In fact, I challenge everyone in our profession to consider and answer this question. Are you a hearing aid salesperson who dabbles in some healthcare advice, or are you a healthcare professional who happens to sell hearing aids?
We need to answer this question; then we need to get behind our professional associations with the answer in mind and help to shape our terms of reference to the future client. I believe that we are much more than salespeople who happen to dabble in healthcare. But the prevalent belief in prospective customers is that is what we are.
We are enablers of a better life; we are enablers of communication and connection, we are enablers of healthy relationships and well being. We allow ourselves to be undermined continuously, eclipsed continuously by a product. But that is our fault, no one else’s. The manufacturers did not do this; the customers did not do this, we did this to ourselves.
OTC and Cultural Mores
The introduction of OTC hearing aids will change the expectations of people with hearing loss. OTC devices will be offered with a self-test, self-fit and self-fine-tune model. This will play to the need of the modern consumer control. Modern consumers want to control, and in healthcare, they want a sense of collaboration.
They are not interested in paternalistic healthcare; they don’t see value in it. The idea of health is changing from a reactive to a proactive model. People are fitter, healthier and better educated about staying that way. They understand the long-term value of wellness. This new sense of health will encourage people displaying some symptoms of hearing loss to try out OTC devices.
As more people do try out the devices it will change the cultural more. We will meet the leading edge of that demographic in a few years and they will expect control over their devices. They may even expect us to sell them the devices in order that they can self-fit.
We need to consider those needs and how we may stay relevant to the consumer. We need to find what services we will offer them, how we will structure those services and how they will fit into our revenue model. Because if we don’t, we will be irrelevant to them.
Technology Will Overtake Us
Innovation in technology will overtake us as it has every other industry and many other professions. Curtis spoke about the human touch, and I agree with him that there is a place for human contact in what we do. However, if we do not frame what we do in aspirational terms, the human touch will not be as extensive a consideration as we think.
In finishing, I ask you again, are you a hearing aid salesperson that dabbles in healthcare, or are you a healthcare professional that happens to sell hearing aids? We all need to consider this, really think about it. If the answer is healthcare professional who happens to sell a product, well then you and I need to get off our arses and help our professional bodies to shape that concept. I for one only hope it isn’t too late.