Hearing Aid Industry at a Crossroads
Those within the industry’s awareness, and emotional connection with this fact spans the entire gamut, from total ignorance, through denial, to anger, frustration, indecision, and fear, and back the other way to hope, happiness, and enthusiasm. All, depending entirely upon who your are, and what your vested interests are, within the current delivery system.
Together with the internet sales by everyone from Sonova to Aunt Harriet, getting rid of dead Uncle Fred’s used Pooptones, and it’s apparent that the gear, and the market, are way beyond the ability of any State Board to police.
This ugly, and unpopular fact is beginning to dawn upon more, and more folks within the industry, hence the span of emotions, reactions, and responses described above.
Requiring someone locally to have an expensive license, education and place of practice, follow a strict set of protocols, and policies, that are being totally ignored with impunity, by huge corporate, and thousands of other small players simply, creates constitutional issues for these Boards, and an uneven playing field of competition for those following all of the old rules.
The problem is one of mission creep on the part of the Boards, Regulators, and Educators, along with an incredible evolution of both the product, and consumer being regulated.
The regulations surrounding the sale of hearing aids evolved around single use electronic devices that were often custom fit, deeply within the ear canal. As hearing loss has been recognised as a serious medical condition, the manufacturing, and sale of these medical devices was controlled by the FDA.
The respective States took their cues from this classification, and began controlling the local sale, and distribution of these single use devices at a time when very primitive computers took up entire buildings.
Yet, while everything about the gear, excepting where it is worn, has evolved, the regulations haven’t just ossified, but grown to serve not the public they were intended to, but those within the system who are being regulated.
Instead, of simply protecting the public from financial, or physical harm, as is their mandate, the regulations have grown to restrict market competition, and access, while promoting the policies, products, and promotions of the professional organizations controlling the respective Boards.
The way forward is both simple, and hard to swallow for some. Let the consumer choose.
Stop posturing with protocols, and licenses about how valuable any particular person, protocol, or position within the delivery system is.
Simply let the consumer, and hence the market, decide.
The consumer is most adequately protected, by simply retaining the current thirty day right to return laws already in place in many states. Enforcing that one, simple, easy to understand rule quickly, and surely, is the very best assurance of protection from financial harm that could occur by the unscrupulous practices of anyone selling what we call hearing aids.
As to protection of the consumer from actual physical harm, that too is simple.
The largest section of any remaining phone book, or directory, is that taken up by the Plaintiff’s Bar. There are more than enough highly trained, and qualified law firms ready, willing, and able to pounce directly upon any indication of true consumer harm in the physical realm.
These firms, with their investigators, litigators, and motivation, have proven far better skilled, suited, and effective in policing any real harm to consumers, than any Board, or jurisdiction, ever empowered.
Given these two facts, the legislative intent of the enabling legislation, at least in the State of Florida, is nicely fulfilled, without the need for Boards, licensing, state investigators, secret proceedings, or lengthy waits for adjudication of violations.
Eliminating the bulk of regulations, surrounding the dispensing of hearing aids does not mean the elimination of standards, or protocols, merely the placement for deciding which ones are best suited to the task at hand, back into the hands of the professional applying them.
If, any particular set of protocols is deemed valuable by the professional using them, they can be tested by the ultimate of tests, the consumer’s satisfaction, and the wider market.
The entire thrust of the Affordable Care Act is to put more of the responsibility for making healthcare decisions back into the hands of the consumer. That cannot be accomplished when professionals insist that they know best, as we have in the hearing aid industry of today.
That our methods, protocols, and policies have been rejected with impunity by the nation’s largest health insurer signals clearly the move away from the old model.
The best way forward for any of our professional organizations would be to help their members adjust, adapt, and take advantage of the opportunities of an unregulated environment, to differentiate the value that their practices, and policies deliver to those that they serve.
The potential for growth, through the multiplication of technical field assistants, using the newest ear level, internet connectible, electronic wearables, communicating via live video link to highly qualified professionals, in real time, is just one such potential opportunity.
Freed from the constraints of current regulations, our profession, and industry is given the opportunity to expand both business, opportunity and a much enriched consumer experience for everyone we touch.
For those who have invested heavily in the old way of doing things, life truly is at a crossroads. The challenges, and opportunities of adapting being presented to our colleagues is as boundless as either their faith, or their fears.
How they see the future, and thus how they respond will come down to just that, a fear, or faith based decision.
Our industry has a choice, continue to see the world like Kodak, Blockbuster,Border’s, and Enron, or begin to see it like Nike, Netflix, Samsung, Apple, & Google.