What Do Consumers Want? Try Asking a Consumer.

If you asked consumers what is most important when buying a hearing aid, would they say price or sound quality?

Hearing Tracker, a respected independent online resource for consumers, and USB Evidence Labs recently surveyed more than 360 audiologists about what brands and features consumers ask for most when buying a hearing aid.

Not surprisingly, sound quality came in first by a long shot (56 percent), with reliability a distant second (17 percent) and value for money in third place (12 percent).

I don’t doubt that is exactly what the audiologists’ customers said they wanted. But I also wonder if the answers would have been different if consumers, especially those who never go to an audiologist, had been asked directly. I expect those consumers would say an affordable price was their top priority.

Currently, only 1 in 7 U.S. adults who can benefit from a hearing aid have one. Why don’t the other six?

The answer is cost. “Hearing aids are expensive,” Jan Blustein and Barbara Weinstein wrote in a June 2016 article in the American Journal of Public Health. Medicare and most insurance plans don’t cover them, and so consumers typically pay for aids and fittings out of pocket. And that can get costly. The average cost of a single hearing aid is $2,300, but because age-related hearing loss typically affects both ears, that’s a tidy $4,600 — a sum beyond the reach of many older people. Blustein and Weinstein note that “in a recent population-based prospective study, a majority of participants cited cost as a major deterrent to buying a hearing aid.”

Kim Cavitt, a past president of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, says audiologists have turned a blind eye to consumer wants. In a recent article headlined “Have We Missed the Signs?” in Hearing Health and Technology Matters, she wrote that consumers “for the past decade have been clamoring for lower-cost amplification solutions,” meaning more affordable hearing aids or hearing aid–like devices.

The devices she refers to are lower-cost products that can effectively help with mild to moderate hearing loss. These won’t replace traditional hearing aids, she wrote but will expand the market by providing a gateway to more advanced traditional hearing aids.

She also noted that consumers want transparent pricing from audiologists — including detailed pricing of various goods and services — and access to assistive listening devices and aural rehabilitation. But mostly, consumers want hearing amplification they can afford.

This month, responding to that consumer demand, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced a bill to ease restrictions for getting hearing aids, including eliminating a required medical exam for many devices. The bill was supported by a number of organizations, including AARP and the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), the nation’s largest consumer group representing people with hearing loss.

The legislation preceded an announcement from the Food and Drug Administration that it will no longer require adults to get a medical exam before purchasing certain hearing aids, clearing the way for a new category of over-the-counter devices.

Barbara Kelley, the executive director of the HLAA, endorses both developments.

“Each and every day,” she wrote, “our office receives letters, phone calls and emails from people with hearing loss inquiring about financial assistance to purchase hearing aids (up to 10 requests a day). The financial help page on hearingloss.org is the number one visited page on HLAA’s website. Sadly, there are few financial aid resources. Creating a category of over-the-counter hearing aids will go a long way toward making these essential devices affordable for the millions of Americans who need them.”

Cavitt agrees, although she isn’t by any means discounting the need for audiologists. People with serious hearing loss will always need audiologists and the services that only they can offer, she says.

For now, though, the goal should be finding an easier, financially feasible way to get the remaining 6 out of 7 Americans with hearing loss the devices they need.

 

This post was first published on AARP Heath on December 19, 2016.

For more on hearing loss and hearing health:

shoutingwonthelpLiving Better jpegKatherine Bouton is the author of “Living Better With Hearing Loss: A Guide to Health, Happiness, Love, Sex, Work, Friends … and Hearing Aids,” and a memoir, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You”. Both available on Amazon.com.

14 thoughts on “What Do Consumers Want? Try Asking a Consumer.

  1. Great blog. Thank you for making the time to write it. I would hope that these lower cost (over-the-counter) hearing devices will include vertically oriented transparent telecoils so that these consumers can use their devices in public places where most hearing aids are unable to deliver (like houses of worship and large meeting rooms) equipped with hearing loops or assistive devices equipped with neckloops.

    A hearing aid without a telecoil is like a car without headlights – sure you can drive it during the day but to drive it at night, headlights are crucial. Same applies to hearing aids. Sure low cost hearing aids are nice but they also have to deliver. In order to hear in places with poor acoustics or where distance is involved for many consumers hearing aids are not enough. They would get so much more from their devices if they can turn on a telecoil in a hearing loop. To hear the difference a loop can make listen to this example on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3XoVrUjfaY

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    • Thank Juliette, I see no reason why low-cost hearing aids should not include a telecoil. Telecoils are inexpensive and they fit easily into most hearing aids. It’s really a matter of education I think. Educating audiologists, hearing aid dispensers and the public.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well Katherine, I think part of the problem is found in the business model of most audiologists. If you buy a $6000 set of hearing aids they will see you free of charge thereafter. It’s false security. They can’t make a living unless they sell you hearing aids. For instance, I found out about audio loop technology on my own and when I asked my audiologist why he didn’t mention this solution to me he blithely told me that there was no money in it for him. No money no service. I installed the audio loop in my TV room and asked him to activate the T-Coil in my HAs. That’s the last thing he will ever do for me. He is no longer in my network of helpers. I’m sure this is not universal but it’s there. I don’t know how this will ever be successfully addressed, but it is a real issue that faces anyone with serious hearing loss.

    The advent of OTC hearing aids is huge. I would have benefited from this decades ago. Perhaps this is the foot in the door for those of us with a hearing disability, in the present and in the future.

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    • Jerry, I think your experience with the audiologist is more common than anyone would like to admit. There are some very enlightened audiologists who understand that the profession must change to survive. But there are others who are — to mix metaphors — digging in their heels and hiding their heads in the sand.

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  3. You are right on the mark with the need to have telecoils in hearing aids, and in the PSAPs that are being promoted as entry level hearing aids with these new rules. However, we have had a dickens of a time convincing audiologists and hearing instrument dispensers that telecoils are relevant and needed by their customers. I fear it will take an entire new movement to get manufacturers of PSAPs to include telecoils in the devices they manufacture and promote. It’s frustrating to those of us who know how important this is. Several years ago there was talk of devices that were not hearing aids or PSAPs, but were basic telecoils that could be worn like ear buds for use in a looped setting. I have no idea what ever happened to that. It was around the time when President Clinton was getting hearing aids. I’ve often wondered if a pure telecoil device might be a solution in many instances. Food for thought anyway. 🙂

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  4. Hearing aids without telecoils would prevent me from hearing speech on my cell phone. The problem is most consumers are not aware of telecoils because their hearing health provider fails to mention them. To improve hearing on a “Hearing Aid Compatible Telephone” one must have telecoils installed in their hearing aids and cochlear implant. Sometimes even with the volume control the voice speaking is not clear or loud enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Please listen to me. COSTCO is where people need to go for hearing aids. My first pair from a world wide company cost $6,800! Soon my hearing became worse and I went to an independent man who was nice enough but didn’t have great equipment to test hearing. Those aids cost $3,600. Then one day I was in Costco and decided to see what they had to offer. After a hearing test like no other, it was confirmed that I had significant hearing loss in both ears. Today I wear aids which cost $6,800 from major companies and I paid $2,000 for TWO and a blue tooth device I wear around my neck so I can listen to my TV, music, and cell phone calls via bluetooth…If you have a Costco near by call them, you won’t be sorry!

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  6. I want to add one more comment join the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) http://www.hearingloss.org. This organization provides information, education, advocacy and support for people with hearing loss. I attended my first HLAA convention in Florida 1996 and learned about telecoils and directional microphones and what I wanted in a hearing aid. You cannot always depend on your hearing health provider just like you cannot depend on every salesperson you meet.

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  7. Isn’t it amazing how much frustration on this points to the person who sells hearing aids? I will never understand why a provider, whether they be an audiologist with a doctorate level degree or an entry level hearing instrument specialist who only has to pass an exam, would not promote telecoils in the products they sell. From the moment I learned about telecoils and connecting technology in 1984 at the first national convention of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc., which is now The Hearing Loss Assn. of America, (HLAA), I’ve been promoting the value of telecoils. Unfortunately, that promotion has often led to arguing with people who sell hearing instruments. In most instances, I’ve been told that my hearing loss is ‘different’ than most of the ‘patients’ they see, and also, “when I try to sell options people think I’m selling them something they don’t need and I make my living selling hearing aids, so I don’t want to turn people off.” This is faulty logic. All a seller has to do is give the person the opportunity to see how this works in real time. Simply explaining what a telecoils can or might do doesn’t work. It’s unfortunate that telecoils are considered ‘options’. They should be standard. Of course the argument then becomes, they take up space in the device and promoting ‘invisibility’ is the industry’s prime marketing tool. People who need hearing aids definitely would benefit from connecting with HLAA before purchasing a product. Like it or not, these devices are marketed like consumer products rather than medical devices, which are usually insured. In most instances a consumer or patient will be much happier when they get the most ‘bang for the buck’, and telecoils provide that.

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