Framing The Future

Framing The Future For Professionals & Consumers

I have been thinking; the wife says that is never a good thing, thinking about how both our industry and profession will change over the next few years. At BIHIMA, I gave a talk on the future client and the future business. While I challenged delegates to consider what they did, I also discussed technology changes that we need to consider. I have noted some discussions recently on social media about the possible influx of new players using a direct to consumer model, and by extension, discussions about traditional manufacturers and a direct to consumer model.

Time To Have A Conversation

I think it is time that both the profession and the industry had the conversation. We need to talk about the elephant in the corner and we need to do it sooner rather than later. The Profession can’t dictate the future of hearing aids, neither can the Industry. The real dictator of the future of hearing aids are consumers. We need to clearly understand that, we also need to plan how we will meet the needs of the consumer. 

Meeting their requirements will involve us changing, in fact, it will probably involve us changing many things from business model to the technology we use. Change is not a bad thing, nothing stays the same forever and this business is no different. You may rail against it, but it is inevitable. 

Some Home Truths

I would like to outline some home truths to you all, they may not be palatable but truths often aren’t. 

  • Consumers think the profession are greedy gougers who take advantage of elderly people
  • Consumers don’t understand what best practices in testing and fitting are and they don’t understand what difference ongoing care and service add to their experience
  • Consumers believe implicitly that the hearing device is the answer to their problems
  • Consumers believe that the current business model is rigid in nature and does not deliver to their needs
  • Consumers believe that the industry is, in fact, a cartel monopoly that acts to keep prices high

Unfortunately, we have conspired to enforce these beliefs and here is why

  • The profession has never outlined what their part of the process of hearing better is
  • The profession has not driven the understanding of best practices in fitting mainly because many would be afraid they might actually have to do it, tell me I am wrong
  • The profession has consistently communicated to consumers that the hearing device is the answer to their problems with their marketing
  • The profession has been slow to adopt any business model change or to offer services and devices in a way that makes sense to consumers
  • While the industry has tried to change the thinking of the profession, it has been less than forthright because of commercial reasons (understandable really, no one likes doing business with someone who outlines why you are stupid)

I believe that the preceding are clear truths, if you wish to argue them, the comments section is open. 

Getting back to the conversation that is needed, we need to discuss openly and honestly how both the profession and industry remain relevant to current and future consumers. That conversation will involve unpalatable topics, however, they need to be addressed. 

What We Need To Think About

It is time to have an honest conversation, because if we don’t, we may well become superflous to the consumer. The conversation should consist of:

  • Over The Counter hearing aids from the established manufacturers and how we can use them to become relevant to the consumer
  • If the industry opens a direct to consumer channel, how can the profession fit within it
  • How will we integrate hearable devices into our business
  • How do we finally address the price issue, the price is a problem, no matter what you believe or what the Gurus tell you
  • Are OTC type devices the answer to the price issue
  • How are we to ensure that consumers understand the value of the profession
  • Will unbundling of invoices clearly show the value of the profession
  • What changes can we make to our business model to ensure that it meets the requirements of consumers
  • How can we use changing technology to expand our scope of practice
  • How can we use ear level sensors and the information provided to ensure our integration into primary health care

The conversation needs to start now because we don’t have much time. The discussion should be open and honest; as I said, there will be unpalatable truths. The industry needs to be able to have the conversation without worrying about how to frame it, so the profession doesn’t have a hissy fit.

The profession needs to get over itself and realise that no one but them, put them in the position they are in. Playing the blame game is a fool’s errand in any way, it never leads to solutions. I haven’t got all the answers here, but I am damn well willing to have the conversation. Perhaps it’s time that we all were. 

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.

One Comment

  1. Great article. What you are advocating is to pull the profession out of the closet where it’s been hiding for the past 5 years or so, with the advent of cheaper and more effective OTC devices. You’re right when you say the industry needs to reinvent itself. What’s happening is simply the onslaught of innovation. And the internet has allowed consumers to be far more educated about price and value.

    The industry has been protected by the government for decades. This has made the industry lazy, and guarded. Audiologists reject any innovation that allows consumers to guide their own destiny. Self-programming, direct purchasing of devices AND accessories from manufacturers, etc. All under the paternalistic guise of wanting to protect the consumer. While they mark up devices 2, 3 or even 10 times.

    I moved to a new city recently and needed my aids adjusted, reprogrammed. The audiologist wanted $695 to do this operation that would take about 15 minutes. That’s the standard price, unaffordable for me at the time because I had been unemployed for a year. She told me that this is the standard price in our market. I know exactly why she charges this much. People are buying aids on eBay and want to get them programmed. It’s a defensive posture that is just hurting the industry.

    So yes, the industry has to find ways to evolve, as you indicate. Here’s some ideas:
    1. Switch from high fees / low volume to low fees / high volume.
    2. Charge ala carte for tune ups
    3. Offer a one-year, renewable service contract
    4. Offer extensive trials at no cost for exotic aids like Lyric
    5. Offer tinnitus treatment programs
    6. Do outreach at assisted living and senior citizen centers in which you offer deep discounts for groups.
    7. Provide free counseling for families dealing with older folks who refuse to wear hearing aids

Let me know what you think

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