OTC Hearing Aids: A Positive for People with Hearing Loss

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.

  • 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?

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9 thoughts on “OTC Hearing Aids: A Positive for People with Hearing Loss

  1. Hi Shari, I hadn’t even THOUGHT of number 3 (People will demand to hear better in public spaces)! And it makes sense about number 4 (communication specialists). Now I’M getting excited too! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      So glad you are excited too! Thanks for your comment.

  2. Having studied economics in graduate school, I agree that the introduction of OTC hearing aids will tend to drive the cost of other hearing aids down. While OTC hearing aids are not an exact substitute for the hearing aids that one buys from an audiologist (in economic parlance, they are a so-called “Giffen” or inferior good), they are close enough that they will have a downward influence on the price of hearing aids — which is good for all of us. And you are correct that the increased competition from OTC brands will tend to force audiologists to provide a broader range of services — rather than just selling hearing aids — at least, if they want to stay in business.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for sharing your economics knowledge on the subject.

  3. Excellent blog post. I think a critical issue is innovation. For those of us with serious hearing loss, the hearing aid industry has made great strides in improving the functions of hearing aids, especially in the past few years. But combining them with consumer tech like phones and tablets holds so much more potential for us. By enabling other players to enter the hearing health field in mild/moderate, they will spark new ways to use these devices in concert with in-ear devices. And these innovations will “trickle up” and ultimately vastly improve our experience as well.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Well said! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  4. I just wonder how programmable they will be as people have different levels of loss at different frequencies. Will they just amplify all frequencies or will they be more customizable? I’m assuming the people who would get them would still require a REM test to make sure they are programmed properly. Since they will be OTC, an Audiologist will charge to see/set them properly, thus upping the cost…

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      This new class of device will be self-fitting so people will be able to take their own hearing test in conjunction with the device and adjust the settings accordingly. Studies show people with mild to moderate hearing loss are able to do this successfully. Thank you for your question.

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