A New Channel, An Exploration

My last article set off quite the conversation; it seemed that many people thought there was some validity to my thoughts. Others weren’t so sure, and one told me to leave the fear-mongering to politicians. I don’t think what I do is fear-mongering; rather, I believe what I do is navel-gazing to explore possibilities. I am a consummate navel-gazer, insatiably curious, a thinker. Or as other people may say, rather uncharitably I think, a lazy, do-nothing, layabout. My Mammy says I am special, so it must be so. 

Non-Traditional Models

Anyway, I spoke last time about the possibility of using non-traditional models to meet our needs during this crisis. I think that we need to consider them as a channel moving forward, not just as a stop-gap measure to be taken during this period. I also believe that they can help augment and drive our services, not threaten or diminish us as a profession. To do so, though, certain parameters need to be in place. Let’s explore my thoughts, take a look at the channel and the parameters. 

The current crisis has stalled the introduction of Over The Counter hearing aids. However, they will be a factor in the USA within the next twelve months. I think that once the channel becomes official, we will begin to see an explosion of devices in that space. 

That isn’t a consideration for US professionals alone. The internet has made the world small, and these devices will become a global phenomenon. The devices will be available to purchase online by consumers across the globe. That means we can no more afford to ignore this model than our American Colleagues. 

We need to consider how best we can integrate these devices into our practices. We also need to look at parameters around the devices that will drive our professional services and our profession. We need to be having those conversations with mainstream manufacturers right now. While many of the mainstream manufacturers have said they are not interested in that channel, I think recent events have overtaken that. 

In my last article, I laid out my thoughts on why I believe that 2020 will be the worst year for hearing aid sales since the industry began. I genuinely hope that I am wrong about that, but I don’t think I am. If I am right, there may well be many consumers looking for a solution to their problems, but not willing to come and see us physically. On top of that, there is a cohort of people who find the cost of hearing aids prohibitive. 

Price is a Factor

Price is a factor when it comes to the purchase of hearing aids. Dump that thought that it isn’t, ignore those that tell you it isn’t an issue. If the price were not an issue, companies like Nano Hearing Aids would not exist or be able to rip off consumers. Price is a factor for many, does that mean we should ignore them? Are they not worthy of better hearing because they can’t afford our charges?

Not Relevant

When consumers can purchase OTC hearing aids, they will experience something very different than the traditional model. That experience will not include us, hearing healthcare where we aren’t relevant. If we do not integrate this channel into our business, we will lose relevance to those consumers. The very worst thing we could do is to ignore them and pretend they don’t exist.

The Parameters

For these devices to make sense to us as a profession, they need to fit within certain parameters. While it is evident, they need to be safe, what other parameters could actively help us as professionals? I believe they are as follows:

  • We can sell them through our practice
  • Self-fitting devices
  • The ability to share the self-test in a recognisable way
  • The ability to upgrade the devices (think Flex Upgrade from Unitron)

Let me explain my thoughts on each point, selling them through our practice should be self-evident. Doing so will ensure that we remain relevant in the process. It also may allow us to capture people earlier in the journey to hearing better than we are right now. Above all, it will enable us to serve a cohort of people that we are not helping now. 

The devices need to be self-fitting. That allows us to sell them direct to the consumers through a simple e-commerce process. It will enable the consumer to self-test and fit the devices at their leisure. 

Giving them the ability to share their self-test with us allows us to do a couple of things. Firstly, it will enable us to recognise problem losses and alert the consumer that they may need a full diagnostic hearing test. Secondly, it will allow us to offer ancillary services like Real Ear Measurements.

The ability to upgrade the device to a ‘proper hearing aid’ will offer the concept that the device is just one step on the longer journey of hearing healthcare. I think that it is essential that the device itself is upgradeable through a software tool. I believe that is a stronger psychological message than merely being able to buy a hearing aid at a later date. 

Shift Hearing Aids

Shift Hearing Aids

Shift Hearing Aids from Sonova, which I spoke about last year here, is a device that may fit into the concept I have. They don’t fit exactly within the parameters I have set out, however, I would imagine they could. The shift is primarily designed for the blended model that Blamey Saunders offers in Australia.

That isn’t quite the model I have in mind, however, that is also a model we need to consider. I think that is a conversation that the profession and Sonova need to have. I also believe that it is a conversation that we need to have with all of the manufacturers.

New Customers

Offering devices within these parameters will allow us to attract new consumers to our business. It will enable us to become relevant to these consumers while offering them some protection with devices that are safe for them. I also think that it will encourage the consumer to look at traditional hearing aids and service much earlier than they do now. Of course, it will also provide an entirely new revenue channel.

There is a market for these devices; there are consumers with hearing loss searching for them and willing to buy them. We can completely ignore them, or we could work to integrate the best of them into our offering. If I am right about hearing aid sales in 2020 through the traditional model, a new channel like this could meet both short term tactical and long term strategic needs for our profession. 

Finally, I know that to offer devices in this manner may not sit well with some members of our profession. I have been a strong advocate for best practice hearing care for many years, and these devices are certainly not it. However, we need to face facts; these devices will happen with or without our input and involvement. To mangle the words of Lyndon Johnson, I, for one, would rather be inside the tent pissing out. 

About Geoffrey Cooling

Geoffrey Cooling is an Irish hearing care blogger and the author of The Little Book of Hearing Aids and Audiology Marketing in a Digital World. He has been involved in the Hearing Healthcare Profession since 2007 when he qualified as a hearing aid audiologist. He has worked in private practice and for a major hearing aid manufacturer. He has become recognised as an authority within the field of hearing care and hearing aids.

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