Or, does opening up the inherent possibilities of today’s available technology, open a Pandora’s box nightmare, dooming the profession to “The same fate as Buggy Whip Experts”, as widely recognized Journal author and regular contributor, Dennis Van Vliet, AUD warns?
In his opening editorial letter introducing the issue, Editor-in-Chief Karl Strom acknowledges the dizzying pace of change we all face and how overwhelming it is to have to deal with these on a day to day basis as a hearing healthcare professional, even titling his article "Technology for the Wild".
Alvin Toffler, in his seminal work of the seventies coined the term “Future Shock” and described in his highly recognized work, that the pace of change and the amount of knowledge available would continue to accelerate putting whole societies into what he coined as ‘future shock’.
Nowhere is this shock more evident than in our profession, as it seeks relevance and meaning in a time of incredibly fast changing markets, equipment and consumer buying patterns affect the practice of dispensing what we’ve always thought of as hearing aids.
Nowhere is the pace of rapid change felt more than in the hearing aid industry of today. When I entered the profession over thirty years ago, product lines might last as long as two, or even three years, before manufacturers were announcing new models.
With the evolution from analog to digital circuitry, that pace was cut to every year by mid nineties and now, we have new products, or upgrades to existing chips packaged and sold as new products from almost every manufacturer every six months timed to coincide with the fall and spring American Academy of Audiology conventions.
If ever there were a disruptive technology, it is the one that we deal with every day. As outlined in article after article in the Hearing Review, the pace of technological advance is far outpacing the profession’s ability, or even desire to keep up.
Each of these well researched and written articles, on the need for ‘tele-audiology’, as outlined in articles by Jerry L. Northern PHD and De Wet Swanepoel PHD, to another by Jason Galster, PHD and Harvey Abrams PHD, who ask the question, “Are you ready for remote Hearing aid programing?”
Then flat advise that if you are not, you’d better be, as they see it as the “next step” in patient care.
The issue described the benefits of being able to wirelessly connect the hearing aids with the programming interfaces, using inherent wireless capabilities of today’s chips to allow professionals at a distance to have technicians insert eartips, probe microphones etc. and then allow the professional some distance away to program the patient’s hearing aids.
While I wholeheartedly agree with the premises and positions presented in the entire issue, from the need for tele-audiology, distance learning and the ability to remotely program hearing aids as so eloquently described in this issue, there was no discussion whatsoever of the next logical step beyond remote, wireless programming involving a hearing healthcare professional.
That next logical step, after remote wireless programming of users hearing aids by, or with a professional’s involvement must be allowing the consumer to do it themselves, without the intervention, or involvement of a ‘professional’ at all.
That next step, the democratization of access to the tools we use everyday is what was not discussed. Consumers being able to program their hearing aids is the unspoken nightmare feared by most in the profession.
This fear is not without foundation. Today’s software programming interfaces have become so intuitive and easy to follow that not only could the savvy consumer successfully fit themselves with many of today’s RIC products, they might just do it as well as a pro.
Using the on board INSITU audiometry functions, available on such high end equipment as the Unitron, or Widex lines, consumers could very well establish their own thresholds, and fit themselves, as accurately, and successfully using the step by step onscreen instructions and adjustment guides, as they might expect, if it were a ‘professional’ actually programming their instruments.
The potentials for reaching millions more hard of hearing consumers via tele-audiology and remote programming, might even be dwarfed by those millions more, who given the right equipment and proper onscreen instructions, might well be able to do as good a job as the professionals tasked with those duties now.
Certainly given the fierce resistance to distance learning, Internet sales and PSAPs exhibited by the various professional associations consumers will never get the chance to program their own hearing aids, if these organizations prevail.
As long as this equipment is continued to be sold, and delivered to the public as hearing aids, these associations will be able to prevent the democratization of the power locked in this gear to help millions more through the licensing process.
However, the same gear available only to professionals today, if provided as a personal sound amplification product, Not a Hearing Aid, would put the same incredible applications now available only to professionals to change lives for the better, to be available to any who wanted, anywhere it might be needed.
Democratization, bringing power to the people. It’s a good thing for society, it’s a good thing for hearing care.
Not every consumer needs, or wants the level of professional intervention that the professionals deem appropriate. High quality, open platform personal sound amplification products, with the same inherent capabilities of todays high end hearing aids, gives the consumer the choice of how much professional intervention that they, not our industry might deem appropriate to their personal situation.
That freedom to choose is what freedom is all about.
And, as Dennis Van Vliet AUD so eloquently put it in his article, we either embrace quality patient-focused service models and protocols, or risk the same fate as Buggy Whip Experts.