These right to practice discussions, while parsing up the hearing healthcare delivery system pie for the ‘professional’ community, do so only through ever tighter regulations of the market for these goods and services. Always couched in the language of protecting the consuming public, when it comes to the hearing aid delivery system, the professional’s rights to practice inevitably lead to increasing restrictions of these same consumer’s rights, or their ability to chose for themselves. Till recently these professional ‘rights’ have trumped consumer freedoms.
Is the hearing aid industry protecting it’s right to an accelerated obsolescence?
During the thirty years I’ve been associated with the hearing aid industry, I’ve seen incredible changes in the equipment being used to help the hearing impaired. But, the equipment isn’t the only thing to evolve.
Along with our equipment, the consumers we serve have evolved as well. The consumer’s we serve today are more educated, and very likely to be what could be well termed as ‘tech savvy.’
In an article by Paul Dybala, PHD titled “Connect and Convert: Internet Marketing Best Practices” appearing in the July, 2012 issue of “The Hearing Journal”, doctor Dybala, of Audiology Online cites statistics that bear out our web efforts.
According to a study conducted by Pew Research, the article cited, the three most popular activities across age demographics was as follows; 1. email, 2. general search engine use and 3. was “searching on the Internet for health information.”
Dr. Dybala’s article continues on to reveal that the very age demographic most likely to be exhibiting the initial signs of hearing loss, and therefore most likely to be ‘shopping’ for information about mild hearing loss, and what can be done about it, those in the 45 to 54 year old decade spend the most time on the internet, an average of 39 hours a month.
This migration of eyes to the Internet media has created innumerable websites selling all manner of products related to hearing, including hearing aids and personal sound amplification products.
Even as the hearing care professional community argued over just how best to stop the sale of hearing aids over the Internet, and attempt to thwart United Health Insurance’s direct sales plans, the FDA was creating a ‘distinction without a difference’, as it relates to the equipment, by their recognition of Personal Sound Amplification Products, or PSAPs for short, and placing them outside of the hearing aid regulatory framework.
By allowing the sale of equipment by the life enhancement benefits it provides, rather than the correction of the underlying medical issue of a hearing loss, the FDA allows for savvy consumers to buy any equipment they desire, outside of the increasingly demanding and restrictive medical dispensing model, providing it’s not sold as a hearing aid, or to correct that underlying medical condition.
With recognition of PSAPs, the FDA created a parallel delivery system that allows any savvy consumer to purchase the personal sound amplification of their own choice, without the intervention of any healthcare professional, or the added financial costs such bundling creates.
Keeping the established medical model alive allows the marketplace itself to better dictate how hearing healthcare dollars get allocated. Basing their decision on the publication of a long term study on lowering healthcare costs through ongoing education, conducted by the National Science Foundation, the FDA recognized that the current system is inefficient and in need of change.
Also noted, was the fact that the current system is estimated to only be serving between eighteen and twenty percent of those who need amplification, but aren’t being presently served, despite over forty years of shaping the marketplace and regulations surrounding distribution of hearing aids.
Despite all of these trends, changes in the regulatory environment, and entry of an insurance giant into the dispensing arena, rather than embracing the inevitable expansion of availability and breaking down of consumer barriers to the tools we use, our professional associations, buyers groups and manufacturers seek to protect their rights to do things in the same old way.
While fighting furiously to protect their “rights to practice” are these organizations actually accelerating their own obsolescence?
By taking the position of actually turning away consumers who’ve tried and failed to address their needs with a device they’ve purchased outside of the established delivery system, such as the position advocated for the entire membership of the Florida association as established in the May issue of their “Oto-Scoop”, official publication, this organization makes it clear that not only are they not embracing PSAPs for their potential to expand the number of people we help, PSAPs and those consumers who try them are to be shunned as outlaws.
Constantly seeking lobbying dollars to fight Internet sales, and perceived assaults on their practice rights, these organizations have constantly used the fear of lawsuits, and the loss of markets, business, profits and licenses to motivate their membership, to argue their positions and the constant need to protect their “rights to practice”.
I would submit that my esteemed colleagues and I have the same rights to practice, as those enjoyed by the Wheelers, Coopers, Tailors, Fletchers and Lamplighters.
We either find a way to be of relevant service to the consumers of our day, using the equipment available today, or we hasten our fade into the same relevance that those formerly esteemed professions enjoyed in times past, through our own denial of the realities of today’s equipment and marketplace realities, as indicated by recent articles in both the Wall Street Journal and Bloombergs, dealing with the PSAP market.
Our mission is to help as many people as possible to live fuller, richer lives through amplification, not to protect our rights to keep things the way they’ve always been through a campaign of fear about what might be lost.
All of the major business titles, including Sir Richard Branson’s latest, “Like a Virgin, the Secrets they don’t teach in Business School” clearly teach that building markets and businesses is about providing the consumer with a valuable experience that they want to repeat.
I would ask my colleagues the same questions I ask of myself and staff;
Are the experiences you provide to those customers and potential customers who call, or come in, one you would want to experience yourself?
Did we accomplish their hearing goals and objectives when they came in, or called?
Did we provide them with value that they understand, appreciate and are willing to pay for?
Did we provide an experience that they are likely to want to repeat?
And lastly, are we making our practice and organizational decisions based upon Fear, or Faith?