If you have been following my navel-gazing in the last two articles, you will know by now that I believe what we do today, will bear only a passing resemblance to what we will do in the future. In this article, I will try to investigate that future and what it will entail.
Bear with me here because some of this will be pure supposition based on events, products and customer changes that haven’t happened. Some of it is educated guesses and no more because some of the details are blurry at best.
Changing Products and Business Model
I believe the brave new world of Audiology 2.0 will be full of different products provided in very different ways. The changes will mean a difference in our business model and a corresponding change in our pricing strategy and structure.
In fact, I don’t believe it to be outside the realms of possibility that we cease to sell hearing aids. I see that as an outlier but possible scenario, all though I think what will change will be how we sell them. At present, we sell the device and service as a package. In the future, I think we will sell them separately.
That alone would be a massive change, but it could quickly happen. I do believe that no matter what the evolution of technology brings, we will always be involved with people who suffer from hearing loss. However, that involvement will change and evolve in response to the evolution of technology in the space.
Machine Learning & Why Fine Tuning May No Longer Matter
To give you some idea why I think our model of delivery will change, I want to speak about machine learning and hearing aids. I believe that as hearing aid brands adopt machine learning, we will see an evolution in its function.
At present and with the recent introduction, it is a limited system with a limited feedback loop. By that I mean that Widex will take the data, it will be crunched and firmware upgrades will be pushed out. That is a limited system, don’t get me wrong and I mean no disrespect to Widex, it is damned cool for a first go.
In the future though, I believe we will see, always on continuous data exchange between the hearing aids and the cloud server system. That type of system will lead to higher functionality in hearing aids than ever before. Hearing aids of the future will continuously improve as more people use them in more situations. If this comes to pass, why would future users need to see us?
That type of scenario will be dependent on users having access to more comprehensive fine-tuning protocols on their Smartphone apps. It will also mean acceptance of greater complexity from them.
More data points will have to be available to ensure better learning and decisions. The user can only provide that with more in-depth feedback. I think the user of the middle future will happily accept that though, in fact, I think the customer of five years hence may well demand it.
Changing The Patient Journey
If hearing aids are going to be continuously and automatically fine-tuned in the user’s ear, what will be their need to see us? While the early systems will not have a dramatic effect on the Patient journey, when the full evolution of machine learning is complete, I think the only reasons they will attend our clinics will be purely service based.
Self Fitting Devices
I would expect to see self-fitting hearing devices become mainstream once the FDA finishes the regulation of OTC devices. While we all understand that the OTC regulation is American based, I believe it will have a profound effect globally.
Up to now, PSAPs have not been regulated in any manner. They were generally cheap tat, and the consumer was well aware of it. However, the OTC regulation will introduce an entirely new type of device. The device will have some of the benefits of PSAPs (price mainly) mixed with control that will make the devices safer.
This state of affairs will raise the attractiveness of such devices in the minds of consumers. I believe that many more people will feel comfortable buying the devices. Core to the delivery of these solutions will be some form of self-programming as we have seen with the IQ Boost from NuHeara.
It will mean that many new users will start with devices that they have chosen and programmed themselves. In fact, if OTC hearing aids do take off, I believe that a whole host of new users will see self-programming as the norm. We already know that modern consumers want more control if they are given it at the start, why do you think they would want to relinquish it?
Not For Everyone, But
I don’t see self-fitting as something that will be for everyone, especially not in the next five years. However, things have a habit of becoming the norm as more and more people are exposed to them. I do believe self-fitting will be a reality and that a growing proportion of users will accept it as time passes.
Hearing Aids & Sensor Sets
There has already been a move within traditional hearing aid brands to increase the functionality of hearing aids with sensor sets. This move makes perfect sense to me because it widens the appeal of the devices and will also allow them to position those solutions as offering more extensive health benefits and information.
As that functionality evolves across the brands, it will mean that we as the front line professional may gain an opportunity around the information that the broader functionality generates.
In general, most people today see health as an ongoing journey. Preventative healthcare is the watchword, and more people are aware of their physical health. A part of this general awareness is fueled by fitness trackers and the different bio information they offer.
People now see that information as invaluable to them in their daily life and their effort to keep well. We will see this type of functionality creep into hearable devices pretty soon. I believe that we will also see this functionality creep into traditional hearing aids as well.
Alternatively, in the medical field, this type of functionality is also seen as attractive in the care of older adults. The data delivered automatically provides a general picture of ongoing health.
Other functionalities such as fall alerts or inactivity alerts are seen as invaluable in this area. If hearing aids are to offer this type of feature, it will mean that the devices will become far more than what they are perceived as now. Rather than just a treatment device for one condition, they will also be seen as a device that can play a part in a primary health care role.
What Part Can We Play?
That is a question we need to consider, what opportunities beyond making the devices more attractive will the introduction of bio-sensors afford us? Will we be gatekeepers to the data? Will it allow us to become directly involved in multi-professional care teams? I mean hell, we should be included in them in any way. But will this new piece of the puzzle make our place more obvious?
I think that we as a profession don’t know the answers to those questions. I also believe that we have to start considering them and framing our part in the future because if we don’t, someone else will. And when they do, we probably won’t like it.
Hearables & The Convergence of Tech
I believe that as hearable devices become more prevalent in the marketplace. The functionality of hearable devices and hearing aids will begin to converge. Within five to ten years, I don’t think there will be a separation of device types in the minds of consumers.
I believe this will bring both opportunities and threats; it will smash any vestiges of stigma, but also bring a more profound price pressure to bear. Why five grand when seven hundred might do?
I think this will be one of the most potent reasons for the change of business model. I believe that as the tech evolves, we will sell both hearable devices and what we now know as hearing aids. I think the way we sell them will dramatically change. Price will be only product based, services will be offered separately and charged separately.
New Products, New Services, Wider Remit
I think the future will bring new product lines, new service offerings and a possible wider remit for our profession. I believe that the sources of our revenue will change and that more of our revenue will come from service-based offerings. That doesn’t mean that we will not continue to receive revenue from device or product sales, it will mean that the revenue we receive will be different.
More Product Sales, Increased Revenue From Services
I think that we will see more product sales than ever before at a lower margin. However, because of the way the model will have changed, I see more revenue from services. It won’t be the end, it will just be different. In the next article I actually want to finally discuss the services that may be offered in this brave new world and how you might manage your businesss and customer base for continued success.