The articles impetus focuses on the public’s search for “a quality alternative to high priced hearing aids” and highlights one company’s product, an ear level dongle with a smartphone application that allows it’s owner to control the volume, treble and bass amplification being applied at ear level through their dongle/earpiece.
Declaring that cost is the most important hindrance to hearing aid adaptation and use, the author ignores the fact that adaptation rates are little different in those European countries with socialized medicine systems that provide hearing aids free of charge.
Clearly, if cost were the true hindrance to wider adaptation, we would see a big difference in countries where hearing aids are provided free, versus here where the consumer is generally responsible for their own hearing care gear. Yet there is no significant difference between here and where hearing aids are free.
Blurring the differences between hearing aids, and personal sound amplification products, while putting them forward as inexpensive alternatives also fails to explain that there may be real, long term health consequences for those with a hearing loss, who fail to address it properly.
It’s not that PSAPs are bad, it’s just that they shouldn’t be confused with, or used in place of hearing aids. They should be seen as a means to introduce the public to the benefits associated with processed sound, as it applies to an enhanced life experience in all manner of sound environments.
As indicated in NPR’s photo and article’s, body this device is an off the shelf Bluetooth dongle that they’ve written a smartphone application to control. Doing so they effectively turn the dongle into a device with all of the characteristics, if not the looks of one of today’s programmable hearing aids.
Though hardly a fashion statement, the setup gives the user the ability to amplify, and shape the sounds delivered to the ear on which it is worn. While no one would look at this and think of it as anything but another ear worn dongle, it niftily serves as a single sided hearing aid, complete with DIY consumer controls and programming controlled through their smartphone. And, all for under $300 bucks.
Not a bad deal for what it does. This company also shrewdly takes advantage of a widespread and growing trend amongst us Baby Boomers, we like to do things ourselves, and if not actually being in control, like to think we are. This PSAP offering capitalizes nicely on this trend.
Personal Sound Amplification Products offer a natural segway for those with a hearing loss to migrate to hearing aids, as their loss, and their recognition of it grows.
High quality PSAPs with the right application software are perfectly suited to running programs giving the user the ability to self test their own hearing thresholds, making them aware of the fact that they have a loss, and instantly correlating how amplification may help them to deal with it.
PSAPs offer a real opportunity to reach the huge number of folks, who all of our surveys indicate could benefit from amplification technologies, but for whatever reason, don’t avail themselves of it.
Most within hearing aid industry have greeted PSAPs with derision and mostly contempt, seeing them as draining business from their practices, and to a large extent providing the public with cheap, low quality junk.
That most of the advertised PSAP offerings to date have been simple low quality amplifiers, housed in casings resembling the hearing aids of forty, or fifty years ago is changing. This is evidenced by not only this hacked Bluetooth dongle, but by other companies offerings of what can only be described as a thin tube behind the ear hearing aid being sold as a PSAP, rather than a hearing aid.
As yet however, not a single major hearing aid manufacturer has placed a product outside of their traditional delivery system to compete in this marketplace. This even though it is estimated to be four to five times the size of the current hearing aid market.
All hearing aid manufacturers have products that could, and would be well suited as entry level PSAPs. All have wireless programming capabilities, and Bluetooth dongles that allow for communications with smartphones, iPads, tablets and anything else with Bluetooth capabilities. Yet none have dared enter the market.
The potential for market growth, or actual dominance available to the first to unbundle their products form from it’s functions, and market an open platform RIC type instrument as a PSAP capable of being upgraded to full hearing aid via program application is huge.
Yet, none of the major hearing aid manufacturers has dared enter this market for fear of alienating their existing customer base, who buy their equipment through the highly regulated and traditional delivery system.
However, with the advent of widespread direct to senior marketing of hearing aids by AARP both through their publication and in alliance with United Healthcare, the nation’s largest health insurer, this intransigence may prove if not fatal, at least unhealthy for those not willing to change.
Unitedhealthcare's purchase of their own hearing aid manufacturer, and their eliminating all other providers under their policies in favor of their own solely owned subsidiary, Health Innovations, challenged the entire established delivery system, by providing hearing aids directly to their policy holders, and consumers via the Internet and mail, with only a phone, or email consultation.
Though bypassing the established hearing aid delivery system with it’s licensed Audiologists and Hearing aid specialists and selling hearing aids directly to consumers is illegal in forty-eight states, the professional association representing Audiologists and Hearing Aid Specialists have been totally ineffective in stopping the practice. Nor, have any state’s regulatory apparatus made any change in the way United, or any of the other purveyors of hearing aids via mail, or over the Internet operate.
Consumers are free to get their gear wherever they choose, Internet, mail order, or their Insurance carrier. As better and better gear becomes available in DIY form, the traditional manufacturers ignore this market at their own peril, along with the huge potential it has for dramatically expanding their market reach and dispenser networks.
Regardless, NPRs article highlights a huge market being largely ignored by a highly regulated and entrenched industry who’d clearly rather fight changes in consumer expectations, markets and product capabilities, than switch anything in the way they do things.