Over the counter (OTC) hearing aids are poised to shake up the hearing aid industry. These hearing aids are expected to bring down the price and hassle of acquiring hearing aids and are garnering much consumer attention. Many believe that OTC hearing aids will disrupt the industry and severely impact independent audiology practices. OTC hearing aids offer technology that will meet the expectations of consumers who seek low-cost, accessible devices. Is the future of audiology in jeopardy, or is the industry ready for the challenge?
The real peril for the hearing healthcare industry is the view of the public that hearing healthcare and hearing aids are the same. OTC hearing aids themselves are not a direct threat to audiology. It is the fact that the term audiology is interchangeable with the device. Although OTC hearing aids provide an improvement in the accessibility and affordability of hearing devices, they do little to improve accessibility and affordability of hearing health care. OTC hearing aids allow consumers to bypass diagnostic evaluations, hearing needs assessments, and hearing healthcare professionals. In a perfect world, consumers will purchase OTC hearing aids only at the recommendation of a hearing healthcare professional. Consumers are not consulting providers, and it is a significant concern for hearing healthcare professionals.
It is essential for hearing healthcare professionals to get behind OTC hearing aids. This support of the products could bring in many new patients for hearing healthcare services. Hearing healthcare is allowing itself is being defined by a device and is feeling threatened by the process. The underlying cause of hearing loss, the consequences of untreated hearing loss, and the proper fitting of a hearing device are going up against low price and convenience.
There is a certain amount of trust for national pharmacy chains, which makes healthcare easily accessible, and hearing healthcare professionals feel the effect of this because they have failed at building their brand. When no other factors exist, consumers turn to a brand to guide their choices. Hearing healthcare professionals must educate the public to value their services and seek access to them. The perception of hearing healthcare and hearing healthcare providers must be a concern. The problem is not disruptive technology; it is the failure to recognize the change and then fail to respond to it accordingly.
There is an opportunity for hearing healthcare professionals to change public opinion about the services that they provide. Providers need to emphasize the importance of hearing healthcare evaluations and reinforce the value that practitioners offer. The public must understand how vital a hearing evaluation is to their hearing health. Equally important is that the public knows that inappropriate hearing devices can be as detrimental to hearing health as not having a device at all. Finally, hearing healthcare professionals need to support advocacy efforts that enhance accessibility to hearing healthcare, which will also affect reimbursement.