Integrated Medical Devices, Hearables and Opportunity

The Impact of Modern Integrated Device Thinking on The Hearing Industry

I recently wrote about Hearables and their possible influence on the future of the retail hearing healthcare profession. I think that it could go several ways but the impact will be immense no matter what. Lets look at the background to that impact.

 Cultural acceptability

I have said elsewhere that these devices can and will change the cultural acceptability of ear worn devices that fit the conceptual parameters that frame hearing aids. Never before has there been a mass market device that truly fits into those parameters.

Historical legacy of mass market ear worn devices of any type is short. Only since the introduction of the Sony Walkman is their acceptability of ear worn devices culturally. As we are aware headphones do not fit the conceptual parameters of hearing aid devices.
Whilst blue tooth headsets begin to fall into the parameters of our devices, cultural acceptability of them remains mixed at best. Devices such as the Dash and other hearables that will be launched are different. For the first time there will be devices that squarely fit within the conceptual parameters of hearing aids available to the mass market.

Not only available but anticipated with excitement. These devices will quickly become mass sellers adopted by millions globally. That adoption will dramatically change the cultural acceptability of ear worn devices. The final vestiges of stigma around hearing aids will be smashed, they will eventually be seen in the context of another ear worn device. The general view of hearing aids will change from purely corrective medical devices to enabling consumer electronics technology.

This cultural acceptability brings new possibilities to the hearing aid profession as a whole. However it does not come without caveats. In general society hearing aids will more and more be seen as consumer electronics. This view may actually cause some difficulty. We know that they are not quite so.  It will be a fine balance for us to ride this new wave whilst managing expectations.

Enabling Not Corrective

I have written elsewhere that I considered GN Resound’s decision to launch the LiNX at CES a piece of genius. I said that I thought that the launch and the devices would have a huge impact on the perception of hearing aids in all demographics. I believe that it has already done this in many ways.

As I am sure you are aware I am a nerd, I also happen to subscribe to blogs by other nerds. The general feeling in that community is that these devices are fantastic. They are seen as enablers that offer deeper integration with the world.

The made for iPhone devices have begun the push that devices like the Dash will complete. However we will need to consider deeper integration of devices with features that heretofore have not been considered seriously. The feature set and options on the Dash give us a possible road map for those features and their integration.

We as a profession will also have to adapt to new realities that we seem to be finding unpalatable. In a recent post I discussed PSAPs and how an understanding of the psychology behind purchase of those devices can change our acceptance of them.

We will need to change our acceptance of them, because the introduction of hearables is going to drive cultural acceptability of them. My advice here has always been move with the times or die. I think that we are close to a point where extinction because of rigid adoption of legacy norms is probable.

Integrated Medical Devices

Within the wider medical world there is currently massive disruption occurring. Disruption caused by technology, makes you glad to know the pain is being shared around. The next step in wider healthcare world is always on remote health monitoring. This gives our profession real opportunity.

The sensors that deliver this ability are freely available and some of them are included in the Dash. The inclusion of these sensor sets in modern hearing aids both custom and non custom is not a difficult task. The rest is just coding, a Bluetooth radio and a well designed app with a cloud storage capacity.

Ta da, an integrated medical device that covers many needs. Or alternatively an integrated health enabling device in the terms of the new discourse. This type of feature set will make hearing aids attractive to many more within our target demographic but also to early adopters and other demographics that heretofore would never have considered hearing aids as a purchase.

It would also allow us as professionals a deeper integration into the healthcare of our Patients. Giving us deeper connections through need to primary healthcare givers. Although that role will probably be considered as technical support, something that I think may be unpalatable to some.

Riding The Wave

I am afraid that this technology and surrounding conditions give us opportunities but also add to the threats that exist. As rightly pointed out elsewhere a simple piece of coding goes both ways. It would be simple for the makers of the Dash to turn it into at the very least a PSAP and possibly a hearing aid.

Even if they don’t see this as viable or opportune, the explosion in the market for hearables will bring some of the big players involvement. What financial sense would it be to Sony to integrate this capability in order to widen appeal and go after the untapped market that we know exists?

At the wholesale level of our profession this has to be a concern. Even Sonova as massive as it is, is a minnow in comparison to some of the technology giants out there. That is the problem with disruptive innovation, it hardly presents itself on your terms. Hence the tag disruptive!

I think that in the retail profession this technology will reignite the product/service/unbundling debate. It will also make us all look at pricing, costs indeed business model. This technology will present our profession as a whole with opportunities but also threats. It is up to all of us to adapt and innovate to survive.

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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