Last week I was an invited panelist for an ASHA Special Interest Group (SIG 8 public health audiology) Webchat on Over-the-Counter (OTC) hearing aids. The other panelists included: Karl Strom, the editor-in-chief at The Hearing Review; Jani Johnson, an assistant professor in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Memphis; and Kim Cavitt, the owner of Audiology Resources, an audiology consulting firm. I was pleased to share the consumer perspective on this important issue.
Attendance was strong — the highest of the group’s webchat series — indicating how seriously the industry is taking the emergence of OTC hearing aids. People raised concerns and shared worries, but the conversation focused primarily on how practitioners can best support people with hearing loss. This was exciting to see.
The key topics of discussion included:
- How will OTC hearing aids impact hearing healthcare?
- Implications for people with hearing loss.
Below I share some of my comments from the discussion.
Why am I excited about OTC hearing aids?
While not appropriate for everyone, OTC hearing aids fill an important gap in the marketplace for hearing care. Once available, millions of American adults with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss will benefit from access to high-quality reasonably-priced devices to help them hear better.
Here’s what excites me most:
- Competition benefits consumers. New entrants to an industry spark innovation across the channel. This is good news for traditional hearing aid users too. More competition also usually pushes prices lower, which may mean reduced prices for traditional hearing aids too.
- Expanded use of hearing devices will reduce stigma. With easier access to inexpensive, high-quality devices, people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss may choose to treat their hearing loss earlier. As more people take steps to hear better, the stigma often associated with the use of hearing assistance will fade.
- People will demand to hear well in public places. When a broader portion of the population uses devices to hear better situationally, they may soon demand to hear well everywhere, increasing demand for hearing access at theaters, lectures, and other public places. This will benefit us all.
- Audiologists will evolve into communication specialists. With competition from other sales channels, expertise in counseling and aural rehabilitation will take center stage. With higher demand, perhaps these services will even be covered by insurance over time.
How can audiologists support consumers who choose to use OTC hearing devices?
Audiologists will remain important partners in our hearing care. I hope they will embrace OTC hearing aids, welcoming everyone who desires to hear better into their practices. Here are some ways practitioners can support consumers who choose to use an OTC device.
- Provide professional hearing assessments. While studies show that consumers are often able to self-fit hearing aids effectively, some people may need assistance. In these instances, a professional hearing assessment may be helpful.
- Offer counseling services. People new to hearing loss need counseling and education. Share communication best practices and other hearing loss tips and tricks with OTC hearing aid users. Not only will these help make their devices more effective, it will set you up as an expert they can turn to in the future. Consumers may be willing to pay out-of-pocket for these services if they are not covered by insurance.
- Try the devices yourself so you can point new patients to the best ones. Include your favorites in your product offering to meet the needs of a wider variety of hearing technology seekers. OTC devices could also make great low-cost back-up devices for existing clients.
Readers, are you excited about OTC hearing devices entering the marketplace?