Looking to Warby Parker as a Model for Online Hearing Aid Sales

Currently, a number of companies are selling hearing aids online with little success. It seems bizarre that in 2018 this industry still hasn’t broken into the online marketplace, especially with 80% of those who could benefit from hearing aids being unserved. So why is that? To start, lets have a look at some of these companies:

https://www.audicus.com

https://www.embracehearing.com

https://hearingcentral.com

https://www.buyhear.com

https://www.hearingdirect.com/hearing-aids/

https://hearstore.com

Now lets change focus for a second and talk about a company called Warby Parker. Founded in 2010, Warby Parker has grown from selling eyeglasses online from a New York apartment building to being valued at 1.75 billion dollars. Warby Parker was not the first company to sell eyeglasses online. They were however, the first company to make purchasing eyeglasses online an option people actually considered. How did they do that?

Here’s a line from a 2011 piece about the company: “Other sites sell glasses online… but they are cluttered and the selection can resemble that of a drugstore.”

That line is from 7 years ago, but it could easily be written today about any of the online hearing aid retailers listed above. Cluttered and drugstore-like. Messy and full of beige. Excessive choice and jargon-heavy.

Now look at the Warby Parker site.

It’s simple and beautiful. They don’t need 800 words of ad copy telling you why you need this pair of glasses. Instead there might be 30 words and numerous large, striking photos of their product. The frames themselves are front and center, but the real magic of the website are the countless images of people wearing their glasses. Anyone visiting the site can immediately begin imagining themselves in a pair of Warby Parker frames.

Warby Parker’s number one self-professed guiding principle is “Shopping for glasses should be fun, easy, and not ridiculously expensive.” Can that apply to hearing aids?

  1. Fun. Can buying hearing aids really be fun? I think so. I think the fun in this context comes not from scrolling through stock images of the devices themselves, but instead being encouraged to imagine yourself using the products and enjoying life with them. A website aiming to sell hearing aids should be able to accomplish this.
  2. Easy. No driving to appointments, no taking time off work, simple returns and repairs. Being easy is what the internet is good at and buying hearing aids on the internet should be no different.
  3. Not ridiculously expensive. Warby Parker famously priced their first frames at $95 rather than $50 because people believed that at $50, the quality must have been really poor. The pricing scheme for hearing aids online should follow this guideline. They can be priced less than conventional retailers, but not so much less that the quality of the product is called into question.

If the general principles of what Warby Parker does so well can apply to internet-based hearing aid sales, then why hasn’t anyone done it successfully yet? There are lots of reasons out there, but I personally just don’t believe anyone has fully committed to it. To really dive into this thought experiment, lets imagine that Warby Parker started selling hearing aids tomorrow. This is how I think they’d do it:

The Product:

In the interest of ultimate simplicity and minimal clutter, the Warby Parker hearing aid website would offer a single model. This model would be the premium made-for-iPhone receiver-in-canal product offering from a respected major manufacturer, rebranded as a Warby Parker device. Consumers would be able to purchase the device in various colours, including Warby Parker’s signature blue.

This lack of product choice may be appalling to some, but its the best option. Guarantee the consumer the best chance of a successful experience and they are more likely to be satisfied. Further, consumers for the most part don’t make decisions based on rational thought; they make decisions based on emotion. In the case of current online hearing aid sales companies, they feel confused and frustrated by the excessive variety of products with no discernable difference and the jargon-filled sales language. For these reasons, they ultimately decide not to purchase hearing devices online. By removing unnecessary choices, the decision to do so becomes much easier.

The Process:

Consumers interested in purchasing hearing aids online from Warby Parker would simply visit the website and browse the options available. When they are ready to purchase, they would upload a digital copy of their hearing evaluation results (audiogram) which would be reviewed by a hearing specialist to ensure they are likely to be successful with their Warby Parker hearing devices. The evaluation must have been completed within the previous year and only consumers with hearing losses aidable by RIC devices may proceed further. Those with more severe hearing losses and those with poor word recognition scores would be advised to see their local audiologist for hearing aid fitting, as they are unlikely to be successful without additional counselling.

The consumer would then select the colour of devices they’d like. They would also be given the option to upgrade to a rechargeable device as well as the option to include a remote microphone or remote control in their purchase.

They will then enter their payment and shipping information. The order will be placed upon review of the audiogram by a hearing specialist. The devices would then be programmed to the consumer’s needs using the appropriate prescriptive fitting rationale.

The devices would be shipped to the user in a high-quality package similar to their eyeglasses. A simplified guide to care and maintenance would be included. The user would have 30 days to try the devices and if they are unsatisfied, they’d simply affix the included prepaid return label to the shipping box and return the products. Perhaps, the user could fill out a provided question card which could provide Warby Parker with direction as to how to adjust the device better, and then resend the device to the user.  Repairs would be sent in using a prepaid return label as well.

Where the Hearing Health Practicioner Fits In:

Presently, the loudest opposition to online hearing device sales comes from audiologists and hearing instrument specialists who feel this practice directly threatens their livelihood. This model will actually do the opposite. By having more people pursuing hearing evaluations, clinics could see the number of people coming through their clinics increase. While many of these new consumers would likely follow through and purchase hearing aids from Warby Parker, each one would still represent an opportunity for the clinician to pitch their products and services as better offerings. It is likely that a portion of those who seek hearing evaluations for online hearing devices would be persuaded to go with a conventional clinic instead.

Additionally, if the expectation of payment for additional services is clear up front, clinics could earn income from servicing Warby Parker hearing aids. Warby Parker could explicitly list “suggested service fees” on their website which clinics could use as guidelines in billing customers for services such as counselling, adjustments, in-clinic repairs, manufacturer repairs, and real-ear verification. So long as these values are known by the user upfront and offer a compelling profit for the clinic there would be no reason not to provide these services.

In Summary:

Do I really want to see online hearing aid sales become more prevalent? Part of me says no; as a clinician I know that a person in need of hearing services will have the highest chance of success with intensive counselling and in-person services.

However, its absolutely unacceptable that only about 20% of those in need of hearing devices actually have them available to use. Utilizing Warby Parker’s proven principles of ease and affordability in online sales has the potential to put life-changing technology in the ears of that remaining 80%.

 

 

P.S. If you’re someone who might be hiring newly graduating audiology students next spring you can just forget that I ever wrote all this nonsense. It was just an interesting thought exercise done on a rainy Sunday evening. Brick-and-mortar stores all the way.

P.S.S. If you’re Neil Blumenthal or David Gilboa, co-founders and co-CEO’s of Warby Parker, email me. Let’s chat.

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Getting Used to It

Instead of saying: “You need to get used to these hearing devices,” 

try saying “Your ears need time to adapt to these devices.”

Why? Think about the last time someone told you to “get used to it.” Was it a positive circumstance? Likely not. When we say “get used to this” when talking about hearing devices, we are unconsciously presenting these devices as a negative thing by framing them in the same context as everything else you’ve heard that phrase paired with. Further, making the shift from “you” to “your ears” takes the pressure off of the client by placing the responsibility of change from them personally to their peripheral hearing organs. If they are having difficulty adapting, its not due to anything they’ve done, its the fault of the cartilage and nerves that belong to them.

Take it a step further by saying “Your ears need time to break these devices in.” 

When you buy a new pair of leather boots or stiff denim jeans, part of “getting used to it” is physical changes to the products themselves. Boots become more flexible and jeans become softer. While we don’t often think about hearing devices changing physically, they certainly do. Receiver wires become more flexible, domes and molds become softer and change shape, and the body’s natural oils will work their way onto the devices to reduce points of friction on ear-tips and casings. Reframing the conversation away from the client themselves towards the devices helps to reduce the emotional load placed on them.

 

The Slide that Every Presenter Needs

I’ve been to a number of audiology-related presentations in the last few months, and while many presenters are very good about ensuring that their messages are able to be heard by everyone, no one is perfect. Therefore I propose that all presenters, especially those in audiology, add this slide to their presentations: Presentation1.jpg

Bonus thought: Asking an audience “Can everyone hear me ok?” is pretty much useless. The people sitting closest to you that you are most likely to see are obviously going to say yes, and those in the back or those with communication limitations will be hesitant to speak up. Instead, try asking everyone to close their eyes and only raise their hands if they can hear you well. I’ve never seen anyone actually do this in a big crowd but I’d bet money that way more people would admit to having difficulty hearing when the method of feedback is more anonymous.

The Apple Store as a Model for Hearing Healthcare

I’m going to start a consulting business for hearing healthcare professionals. People are going to fly me across North America and pay me obscene sums of money to get my input on their practices. What’s the secret I’m going to share?

Be more like the Apple Store.

Everyone loves the products sold by the Apple Store. Everyone loves the experience of the Apple Store. Nothing brings in more money per square foot than the Apple Store.

To me, the greatest strength of the Apple Store is the accessibility. Every single product is available for anyone to experience; not just to look at, but to actually handle and physically use. Apple knows that 99% of its customers aren’t buying the $10,000 iMac computer, but they still make it available to anyone coming through their doors. The people are accessible as well; anyone can sign up for educational sessions or Genius bar appointments. That accessibility is the biggest factor missing from they typical hearing device experience.

Let’s imagine someone built an Apple Store for hearing devices and picture what that customer experience would look like:

Tim is a 45 year old man picking up some things from the mall. He doesn’t think he needs any help hearing, but he’s intrigued by this new store. There are no sales banners or advertisements, just huge clean windows through which he sees crowds of people looking very interested and excited. Curious, Tim enters the store and sees rows of clean wood tables under bright lighting with various products presented. Tim walks up to one and picks up a hearing device and checks it over. He’s never actually held one before and is impressed by its sleek design and small size. An employee comes over and offers him a pair of clean domes so he can try the devices out himself. As Tim is inserting the them, the employee explains that what he hears is just an approximation – if he’d like his own set of devices then they would be custom-fitted for his hearing. Tim is impressed with the sound quality, its far better like he expected. He reflects that his only real experience with hearing devices up until now was with his grandfathers’s, but that was many years ago. These devices are very different from those giant beige things. He thinks about his aging mother and how these new products might help her in some of the situations she seems to have difficulty in. Tim spends a couple minutes playing around with the hearing devices’ accompanying app on a smartphone that’s set up beside them.

He puts them down and has a quick look at the various other accessories around the store, including remotes, TV streaming boxes, and special microphones. On the walls, between gigantic posters showing off the same products he’d just been holding, are everything a person with hearing devices could need. Cases for the them, boxes to help them dry out, cleaning supplies, even stickers and jewellery to decorate them.

Tim makes his way to the back of the store where a group of people are listening intently to an employee give a presentation on hearing device maintenance. A nearby computer monitor offers electronic sign-ups for upcoming group sessions. Some of the topics Tim sees listed include “Helping your Partner with Hearing Loss,” “What First-Time Users Should Know,” and “Tips for People with Hearing Loss in the Workplace.” There appear to be spaces to book one-on-one counselling sessions as well.

Tim is about to leave, but something catches his eye. Presented on a table are a number of devices that look more like headphones than hearing devices. He tries a pair on and reads the information provided. Apparently, these are “hearables.” Another employee comes along and explains to Tim that they are essentially wireless headphones which can double as an entry-level hearing device. When Tim tries them on, he is impressed with how well the employee’s voice cuts through the noise of the store. Tim thinks about a particularly noisy café that his coworkers enjoy going to and imagines that these products could help him catch some of the conversation he’s been missing there – plus he needs a new pair of headphones anyways. He picks his favourite colour, and the employee swipes his credit card on the spot with no need to wait in any line. Tim also asks how to go about getting his mother’s hearing assessed and learns that there are special testing booths and counselling suites in the back of the store for just this reason. The employee gives Tim a card with the website where he can book an appointment for his mother, but he also suggests that Tim book one for himself. “As a baseline,” he says. Tim scoffs at the suggestion, but then thinks for second. Those hearing devices he tried when he first entered were actually quite impressive. If it turned out he might need them sometime down the road that wouldn’t be the worst thing.

So, what was accomplished in this scenario that typically doesn’t happen in a conventional hearing care setting?

  1. By making hearing devices accessible, Tim’s perception of them was changed. He may not require devices for a number of years, but when he does he will be more willing to adopt them.
  2. By making counselling services accessible by online registration and with more flexibility, more people will take advantage of them, leading to better device satisfaction.
  3. By making the facility accessible and appealing to walk-in traffic, an appointment was generated for at least one person who would not have had an appointment otherwise.
  4. By making non-conventional products available a sale was made to someone who is not presently a suitable candidate for hearing devices.

Now obviously it would take a lot to build this Apple Store-type hearing health centre from the ground up, but there are still steps that any clinic can make towards achieving the same goals. Start by making everything you offer as accessible as possible. Make devices and accessories fully available for clients in your waiting room to handle and try. Make your clinicians’ expertise available by offering drop-in or group counselling services. Make your clinic intriguing and inviting to new clients. Finally, expand your potential client base by offering products that others aren’t.

We are all looking for ways to improve our practices and expand the delivery of hearing health technology and services. However, maybe there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when a proven wheel made of stainless-steel and glass already exists.

 

 

(I was only sort-of joking in my introduction. I’d be thrilled to be a consultant for you. How long does it take to incorporate a consulting business?)

Empowering Children Who Use Hearing Technology: A Very Rough Draft of a Very Practical Toolkit

Preface: This post represents something I’ve been tossing around in my head for awhile now, and finally decided to share to gather more thoughts on. It comes from a place of personal experience, and should not be treated as something derived from any sort of academic foundation. Please let me know what you think – are these exercises you might use? Do they have a place in current aural rehab practices? What other situations or skills would you like to see addressed? Bare in mind that this is a rough draft with plenty of opportunity for further development and refinement.

__________________________________________

The following activities were developed to help empower children who use hearing technology in their day-to-day lives. While there is a wealth of information available on how to best support hearing and speech outcomes in children who use hearing technology, there seems to be a lack of resources available to help audiologists and parents empower children to be their own advocates for their hearing needs. This document aims to fill that need by providing fun, practical activities that parents and audiologists can use to educate, empower, and foster resilience in children who use hearing technology.

 

The activities are divided into 4 areas:

  • Self-advocacy – Speaking up
  • Self-efficacy – Taking control
  • Education – Understanding
  • Identity – Being confident in oneself

 

Self-advocacy goal: Giving children the skills and confidence to speak up in order to modify their environments to meet their communication needs.

Reading activity:

  • Begin by telling the child that while you read to them, you’re also going to play a game. Tell them that you might start speaking very, very softly and that it is their job to politely get your attention and ask you to speak up. Have the child practice their attention-getting technique (either a hand raise or a shoulder tap) and have them recite the script for this situation (“Could you please speak louder?”). Then begin reading, occasionally letting your voice become very softly or in a whisper that would be difficult for anyone to hear. Your child should then use their attention-getter, then when acknowledged by you, they should ask you to speak louder. Reward them appropriately and continue reading at a louder level. If the child is not asking you to speak up when they should, check in with them and ask if they can hear you. If necessary, prompt them accordingly (“What should you say to me if you can’t hear me well enough?”).
  • Try switching things up by changing the listening challenge. You can occasionally turn your head away from the child and have them ask you to face them when you speak. You can also begin talking more rapidly and have your child ask you to speak slower.
  • Try to switch positions for any of these activities. Let the child tell you a story and instruct them to try speaking as soft as they can occasionally. Then, you can ask them to change their communication technique which will help them understand that they aren’t that different – everyone faces communication difficulties and we all need to ask for modifications at times.

 

Self-efficacy goal: Giving children the skills and confidence to take control of their hearing devices to ensure they are able to meet their communication needs.

Start-up check activity:

  • Begin by ensuring the child is familiar with the start-up jingle their hearing devices make upon being switched on. Children whose parents switch their devices on before inserting them may not be familiar with the jingle. Explain to the child that the jingle means the devices are switching on.
  • Then, have them close their eyes while you turn off both of their hearing devices. Switch one of them back on immediately. Have the child tell you which device is being switched on.
  • Repeat this activity until the child is consistently successful. Let the child try turning their own devices off and have them connect the sound of the jingle with their own actions.
  • This skill is very important as a hearing device user, because the presence or absence of the start-up jingle can be used to identify the site of dysfunction of a dysfunctional device. For example, a “dead device” that still plays the jingle suggests a dirty microphone which may be cleaned, while a “dead device” that doesn’t produce a jingle suggests a dead battery, defective receiver, or a blockage in the tubing. For older children, you can explain these steps to them and let them become their own troubleshooters when their devices malfunction.

Listening check game:

  • Begin by telling the child that you’re going to play a listening game with them. Then, ask them to pick a string of sounds they’re going to use for the game. The string can be something like “Ba-ba-ba,” or “hup-hup-hup.”
  • Then, with both hearing devices on and inserted, ask the child to say their sound-string. Instruct them to listen carefully. Ask them if the sound is the same in both ears.
  • Then, have them close their eyes while you turn off one of their hearing devices. Try to touch both of them so its not immediately obvious which one was turned off. Have the child say their sound-string and ask them to listen to their own voice carefully. Ask them if one ear sounds different than the other. When they correctly identify which device was turned off, turn that device back on and let the child use their sound-string again so they can hear the difference.
  • Repeat this activity multiple times until the child is consistently successful. Try changing the volume on one device instead and practice that way as well.
  • This skill is important because in busy environments it can be difficult for even experienced hearing aid users or audiologists to detect dysfunctional devices by environmental sounds alone. Using a consistent set of speech sounds can help people assess hearing device function using nothing more than their own voice. With practice, they will be able to identify reduced gain and distortions that can help with troubleshooting.

Battery replacement:

  • Have the audiologist use the hearing device software to play the low battery warning through the child’s hearing aids. The audiologist should also play the start-up jingle sound so the child can tell the difference. The audiologist may play a brief game with the child, asking them to tell them what sound they hear (start-up, low battery warning, program change noise, etc.) until they are consistently correct.
  • Because hearing device batteries typically last for about a week, children’s practice with changing them may be infrequent and inconsistent. Save some dead batteries and some stickers in a container for practice.
  • When the child’s device batteries are dead, have them perform the work of removing the dead batteries, setting them aside, and removing the stickers from the new batteries. You may wish to include a battery tester in this exercise. Using your stock of old batteries, let the child practice 3-5 times before re-inserting the hearing devices.

 

Education goal: Giving children the knowledge about their hearing loss to ensure that they understand the basic physiological reasons for their impairment and the possible limitations they might face, but also to understand that their impairment is purely physiological and does not devalue their worth or change who they are as a person.

Anatomy activity:

  • Find an appropriate diagram of the entire ear online and have the child construct their own model out of construction paper. They should use a different colour for each major piece (eardrum, ossicles, cochlea, etc.)
  • Using age-appropriate language, explain to the child how sound turns into vibration which turns into electrical signals in the nerves of the cochlea. Have the child explain the process back to you to ensure they understand it.

Impact activity:

  • Building on the above anatomy activity, explain to the child how the source of their hearing impairment impacts them. For example, if the impairment is sensorineural, you might explain that there are fewer working nerve cells in their cochlea, so it takes a bigger sound to send a signal to the brain. For children with sensorineural hearing impairment, it is also important to explain that fewer working nerve cells also means they may have reduced clarity.
  • Ensure the child understands that their hearing impairment is strictly sensory, and does not affect anything else about them – not their intelligence, creativity, or any other dimension of their character.

 

Identity goal: Giving children the confidence to wear their hearing devices openly and to explain their hearing identity to others.

Show-and-tell activity:

  • All children with hearing devices will be asked by their peers, “what are those?” and be made to explain what they are wearing in their ears. Being confident in this situation can ensure the child experiences a positive outcome in this situation.
  • You may begin by asking the child if anyone has ever asked them about their devices. Explain to the child that most of the time people are curious and that the best thing to do is teach others about hearing devices. Tell the child that you are going to pretend to be a nosy stranger and you’d like them to show their devices to you. If the child is unsure how to respond, suggest they say something similar to the following: “Those are my hearing devices. They help me hear because I don’t hear very well without them.” Then suggest the child remove a device from their ear and hold it out for you to see. Be very positive and affirming in this exercise (“Wow, that’s really cool!”). Practice a couple of times until the child is confident with giving their explanation.
  • You may wish to practice responses to other questions as well, depending on the age of the child. Questions like “Can you hear anything without them,” or “Can I try them on” might be good ones to address. Work with the child to decide on appropriate responses.

Identity activity:

  • After “What are those?” the second-most common question children may receive is “Are you deaf?” Without a strong understanding of themselves and their hearing identity, this question can be very uncomfortable for children who use hearing devices and they may not know how to answer. This discomfort and inability to confidently respond is likely a greater vulnerability to bullies than the devices or hearing impairment itself.
  • It may be useful to begin by asking the child questions like, “Has anyone ever asked if you are deaf? What do you usually say to them?” Let them guide the conversation, but ask them probing questions to help explore their feelings.
  • Based on the child’s hearing and family’s communication choices, work with the child to develop an appropriate response that they feel comfortable using. Have them practice it with you a couple of times so they are better prepared to use their response in natural situations. The response does not have to include the words “deaf,” “hearing impairment” or other terms used clinically. It may be as simple as “I don’t hear as well as others so I need to wear these devices.”
  • Ensure that parents and family members are involved in this process as well, and leave with a complete understanding of the way the child identifies with their hearing ability.

 

 

31 Thoughts: Ripping off a Very Good Hockey Blog for Speech and Hearing Month

On May 1st of this year I tweeted the following:

Remington_S____Hearington____Twitter

As you can see by the number of replies, I didn’t do a good job at following through with this goal. Between attending Speech-Language and Audiology Canada’s 2018 Conference and board meeting, developing a presentation on audiology as a career choice for a Dalhousie graduate conference, and diving into my 12-week summer internship, the beginning of May kept me pretty busy. However, in an effort to follow-through on what I initially set out to do here’s a blog post including 31 thoughts and musings about hearing and audiology.

(If you follow professional hockey at all, you’ll know that this format is ripping off my favourite hockey blog: 31 Thoughts by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. Every week he breaks down 31 unrelated topics that are usually too big to just Tweet out, but too small to justify writing an entire article on.)

  1. 24 years ago my hearing loss was missed because there was no universal newborn hearing screening in my home province of Alberta. Now, friends and family make a point to send me photos of their newborns getting their hearing checked before they leave the hospital. While Alberta’s program isn’t quite universal, its getting close. In addition, Saskatchewan announced funding for their own newborn screening program in this spring’s budget, and Ontario pledged to boost their program last summer. While many provinces still have a ways to go, as a whole Canada has made great strides since the Canadian Infant Hearing Task Force released their last report card in 2014. So many people have put in so many hours towards making a difference for Canadian newborns, and its important that we all take time to continue to advocate for universal newborn screening – not just in May, but all year long.
  2. Can we hang up our hats when universal newborn hearing screening is accomplished in Canada? Probably not. In fact, there are great arguments to made for the wider implementation of preschool hearing screening. Perhaps that should be our next big goal.
  3. Dr. Cliff Olson recently expanded from his hearing-centric YouTube channel and is now hosting a podcast for The Hearing Journal. His most recent guest was hearing loss advocate Shari Eberts and it is definitely worth a listen. I love podcasts and its great to see another hearing-related program out there. I’ve actually played around with the idea of starting my own, so I’ll definitely be following this one closely to see how it goes for Cliff.
  4. D.J. Demers’ ongoing partnership with Phonak is fascinating to watch. What started with a comedy tour/video blog last fall has now grown into D.J. representing Phonak online, on the exhibition floor at AudiologyNOW, and at Phonak’s R!SE Symposium. Every time I hear him speak I’m amazed at how well D.J. is able to balance his role as an advocate and a role model, with that of being a quasi-corporate-spokesperson. Whoever it was with Phonak that took the leap to get him involved deserves some major kudos.
  5. Continuing along this theme, I think Gael Hannan is amazing. She’s probably the most prolific hearing loss blogger and advocate out there and does such great work providing support and building networks for others with hearing loss. However, I really wish she’d stop pushing for the word “HoH” (her acronym for hard-of-hearing, pronounced “hoe”) to gain greater usage. This appropriation of the African-American English vernacular pronunciation of a derogatory term for a female working in the sex industry doesn’t sit 100% right with me as a white dude in 2018, but I have to imagine others feel the same way.
  6. The Sivantos-Widex merger will be interesting to watch. Both companies have loyal followings, so I can’t imagine they’ll drop either of the brand names anytime soon (especially now that everyone just started getting used to saying Signia instead of Siemens). Perhaps most interesting will be whatever new marketing materials the combined forces come up with. You have to imagine the team that came up with the “animals painted on hands” campaign and the team that dressed a 65 year old dude with a man-bun in formalwear for a surfing photoshoot will come together for something really great.
  7. This merger leaves Starkey as the only family-owned hearing device company out of the Big 6 (now 5). However, between talking deer, embezzlement lawsuits, and sexual harassment claims you’d have to imagine that can’t last forever. Resound has been expanding its operation in Minnesota and now own Audigy, who have had longterm partnerships with Starkey. It seems possible that we might be down to the Big 4 sooner rather than later.
  8. If I see one more hearing clinic just post a bad comic strip making a poor joke at the expense of people with hearing loss as an excuse for social media content I’m going to lose it. Be better than that folks. You’re all smart, capable individuals with valuable and entertaining things to offer. One of my favourite audiology clinics to follow online is Lakeside Audiology in South Carolina. Look what a solid understanding of your own brand and values (and admittedly some pretty decent photography skills) can do to deliver great social media materials.
  9. At the SAC 2018 Conference in Edmonton, I found myself in one of the audiology presentations as one of several audiologists in attendance with hearing loss (we were all in the front row, true to expectations). It felt really empowering to know I was amongst colleagues with similar backgrounds, and the same drive to help others in our positions. I wonder if there are more opportunities to explore these shared experiences and share our body of knowledge with the rest of our audiology peer group to improve patient experiences for all.
  10. Dave Kemp of FuturEar always keeps me thinking about the future of hearing devices, including the use of voice assistance going forward. He recently inspired me to see if I could control my Oticon Opn hearing devices with just my voice. It turns out you can – sorta. Its definitely doable, but not super convenient.
  11. A few months ago I had the chance to work with a woman for a university project who had significant mobility limitations, but had special supports in place for her to do almost everything independently. From a specially-built kitchen and vehicle modifications, to  assortment of tools to get dressed, do her hair, and perform everyday tasks, I was amazed at how she had found a solution to nearly every issue she faced. However, I asked her if she’d be able to independently insert, remove, and maintain conventional hearing devices if she had to. She was very certain in her response of “no.” That ought to be an area we can explore more, right? Technology like voice assistance will help, but I think there must be room for some more practical solutions as well.
  12. There’s an argument made by certain groups in the Deaf community that all individuals with hearing loss should learn sign language, as they should have a way to communicate that isn’t completely reliant on their devices which may potentially one day stop benefitting them. I don’t really agree with this view, but as I get older I can start to understand it more. While technology can help in a huge number of situations, there will always be situations where it simply isn’t the best option. Long sweaty bike rides, a day at the beach, etc. I think an important but sometimes overlooked component of aural rehab, especially in kids, is empowering individuals with hearing loss to be capable and confident in situations where they’re without their technology.
  13. I follow a handful of Facebook groups for people who wear hearing aids or have hearing loss, and some of what I’ve seen is incredible. People will pose questions that should have been answered during their fittings and many others will reply with completely misguided answers. Can audiologists do more to educate their clients? Should there be better resources available? I’d recommend that all hearing professionals snoop on some of these groups to understand what level of understanding many clients have about their devices.
  14. Frankie Talarico published his Open Source instructions for 3-D printing your own VRA equipment this week. Phenomenally cool.
  15. I’ve had this post open on my desktop for a couple weeks and now its May 29 so I’m hitting publish. There’s lots of interesting stuff going on in the hearing health / audiology world but nothing else I can think of that hasn’t been covered elsewhere. Have a great summer everyone!

 

 

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HearBox – A New Business Model

The following is a pitch for a new business model to deliver the devices and services required by those with hearing loss. It aims to incorporate the subscription model and  worry-free shipping that has been made popular by companies like HelloFresh, Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club and many more.

Twelve Words: Never buy another hearing aid again. Pay for hearing health care instead.

Additional Words: The client begins by visiting their local HearBox audiologist for a comprehensive hearing evaluation and selects the appropriate technology for their needs. They commit to a monthly subscription plan and walk out with a pair of premium devices specifically programmed for their needs and verified with real-ear measurement. They may return for additional follow-up appointments for fine-tuning and counselling if needed, but after that the goal is to have them in the clinic as little as possible. Instead of returning to purchase additional materials, the client receives a curated box of hearing care supplies each month. Batteries, wax guards, domes, cleaning materials, and other accessories are conveniently delivered right to their door in a premium shipping container (the HearBox if you will).

The next step is where things get exciting. Rather than scheduling an appointment and visiting the clinician when the client feels their hearing devices may not be working as well as they did when first fit, they simply long onto their HearBox.com account and request a new pair of devices be shipped to them. The HearBox technicians at the central facility will then use the patient’s fitting information provided by the clinic to fit and verify a pair of devices from the HearBox inventory using the patient’s RECD values and S-REM measures. They are then shipped to the client within 24 hours. When the patient receives these new devices, they then place their current devices into an empty HearBox, affix the included prepaid shipping label, and deposit it into their mailbox. These devices arrive at the central HearBox facility where technicians inspect, refurbish, and repair them. When they are verified to be functioning as well as brand new devices, they return to the HearBox inventory where they will await to be programmed to the needs of the next client who requires them.

That’s the key idea of HearBox – the patient never owns new hearing devices, but they always have access to refreshed devices that function like new.

For Clinicians: This model allows professionals to spend more time getting obtaining detailed hearing results and fitting devices with more care. Rather than waste time replacing receivers, cleaning microphone ports, and other tedious tasks, they can spend more time on the important ones.

For Patients: This model delivers a stress-free option to access the hearing care they need. Rather than worry about booking appointments, travelling to the clinic, and potentially being without their devices for extended periods of time, the client is guaranteed functioning hearing aids within 24 hours of their request and all the supplies they need to keep them functioning.

For Manufacturers: Who already has a network of retail clinics and a centralized location full of trained technicians? You do. This model would work exceptionally well in a corporate chain and would be a great way to add an experience that can’t be matched by independent clinics.

For Independent Clinics: Ignore what I just wrote. This model could work well for you too. Independent clinics could join the HearBox network, accept referrals from the HearBox website, and receive a fee for each HearBox fitting they perform while avoiding the unpaid follow-up appointments associated with typical fittings. This would be a great way to deliver a premium experience for the segment of your client base that seeks it.

What this Business Model Is: It’s the easiest, most convenient way to access the hearing devices need by those with hearing loss and to maintain easy access to functional devices when wear and tear take their toll.

What this Business Model Isn’t: It’s not a rental; its not a lease. At no time is a set of devices permanently designated as the client’s; they’re just subscribing to an all-inclusive  service that includes the devices. Think this is ridiculous? You can access a car with a subscription service, so why not hearing devices?

The Footnote: Let’s not spend too much time overthinking the numbers here. Building up a library of devices, employing a team of technicians, and delivering rapid shipping as described here would certainly push the client’s monthly cost up – but I still don’t believe this model would be impossible. There is a significant segment of the population with the means to attain and the demand for a stress-free, hassle-free service that this model offers. But, in all honesty, this whole thing was more of a thought exercise for me than it really was any sort of realistic plan (though I did pitch it for a business model development program and competition). I really do believe that in the face of changing landscapes of hearing health care that new and innovative models of product and service delivery will crop up – ones we haven’t even thought of yet.

The Footnote’s Footnote: If you run with this idea and get massively rich I won’t even be mad as long as I get a tiny piece of the action. Let’s say 15% and I get a cool title like “VP of Innovation.”

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