Hold Tight, It's Going To Be A Wild Ride!
By Geoffrey Cooling F.I.B. on 26th December 2015
Change is the outlook for Audiology in 2016, we all know it, but will you be a part of it, or be a victim of it? It's still not too late to decide
Securing Your Future in an Environment of Change
I spoke in Audiology Future 2016 about the outlook for next year, we all know that next year will probably see the introduction of new players, new devices and possible new regulations that will enforce change on Audiology in the States and internationally. The key here is that the change can not be affected by us, it is going to happen. Even if it doesn't happen in 2016, it will happen and happen soon. The question you need to answer is will you be a part of that change, or will you get steam rolled by it?
Riding the change
So how are we to ride that change, secure our future during that change? There are many aspects to what is going on that some in Audiology find un-palatable. The widespread introduction of PSAPs billed as devices for mild to moderate loss is most definitely one of them. In this article I want to talk about how we can deal with the advent of hearables and PSAPs. Elsewhere I will look at adopting new technology into Practice to help us reduce costs and offer a more collaborative and engaging approach to hearing healthcare.
First though, to understand what we need to do, we really need to understand how and why this has happened.
The product as the answer
Within our industry we have allowed the product to become the centre of the treatment equation. We have in fact talked and marketed ourselves out of a job. This state of being is combined with the advent of a new type of consumer, the educated and connected consumer. It is further complicated by a change in social culture in the prospects we are seeing. Hearing aids are seen as the answer and like other simple electronic products they should be cheap. Not just that, I, the consumer, want them on my terms.
We are an impediment
Audiologists and their high pricing for "simple electronic products" are seen as an impediment to hearing aid adoption for the masses. We know that success with these "simple electronic products" is not that simple. We are also aware that continued success for users is ensured by aftercare and service. However, we have not communicated this well, this has left us in a position where communicating it, makes us look like we are defending our position. So what now?
PSAPs, starter devices, hearables
I believe that there will be quite a flood of new devices to market over the next year. The Dash (hearable from Bragi) will be introduced at CES in January. Samsung will introduce their products in the New Year, possibly in February, Apple is strongly rumoured to be introducing a device of its own. We already have the Eargo and Adnan Shaib's iHear. There are also clear signs that many other players will enter the market.
For medical purposes, hearable devices are a fantastic opportunity for near always on monitoring. The market for PSAPs and hearables will be huge and we can expect massive cross over between them. The devices are coming, there is huge excitement about them and they are here to stay. We need to decide what we are going to do with them. We need to accept the innovation, investigate it and use it to our advantage.
Offering starter hearing aid devices (PSAPs)
We are aware that price is the most important factor for first time buyers. We are also aware that service and quality are the most important for second time buyers. We believe that many people put off amplification because of the high cost to entry. It may not be that they can't afford them, it is more that they believe that their issues don't warrant the spend. This is a large part of the estimated 70% of people who need amplification but don't have any.
Starter devices allow you to reach these people on their own terms. They are also delivered without the current aftercare or service that we deliver now. If you decide to include starter devices in your line up, it is key that you follow a clear strategy in line with common principles in the electronics industry.
Offer the devices with no back-up other than the standard consumer rights. It would be tempting to offer the devices as an OTC sale, however, it makes more sense for us financially in the long term to deliver a hearing test as part of the purchase. There are strategic reasons for this, you are engaging the prospect in the process, which familiarises them with it. You are also clearly identifying the hearing loss upon which you can give recommendations.
It is important that you should give recommendations, this allows you to clearly state what the state of play with their hearing is and how much help they can expect from the device. It also allows you to explain the differences between the devices and the hearing aids we are all familiar with. This allows you to be open and honest, it also allows the buyer to understand a little more about why hearing aids are a better option and why they are priced in the manner in which they are.
I believe that the sales of these devices will lead to earlier and greater adoption of traditional hearing aids. People will suck them and see, because you have educated them, they will make sound decisions based on their experience. More often than not, I believe that decision will be to acquire proper amplification backed up by service anf aftercare.
Your hearing aid product offering
Is it time to look at how you offer hearing aids? Is it time that you introduce new ways of offering hearing aids? I think it is long past time to investigate how we can do this. I also think that new technology from the hearing aid manufacturers will allow us to do so. In a world of simple tele-audiology and self fine tuning, we can offer a new way to purchase hearing aids. We can un-bundle services, we can offer different support packages. The only impediments to what we can do is in fact our imagination and the technology that becomes available.
Hearables as a product offering
The sale of hearables will diversify your product offering, bring new customers to your Practice and set you apart as a centre for ear level devices. It is really that simple. If the manufacturers of hearables offer physical customisation options it will also allow you a secondary revenue flow. In fact, once the devices start to hit the market, I would be discussing possible customisation options with my mould makers. Even if the manufacturers don't offer physical customisation options, it shouldn't stop you doing so.
The strategy to follow is the same as with starter devices, I would even offer a scan hearing test as part of the process. Doing so will familiarise the customer with the process, it will also allow you to discuss good hearing health. This will finally allow us to introduce the concept of hearing conservation and good hearing care to the mass market.
Offering these devices will allow you to secure your future, they will open up new markets for you and I believe they will in fact boost your sales of traditional hearing aid devices. Although, I doubt that there will be recognisably traditional hearing aid devices within three to five years. I think the traditional hearing aid manufacturers know that they have their work cut out for them in order that they can also stay relevant in the coming market change.
Next I want to look at how we can adapt changes in the app sphere, fitting software and traditional hearing aids into our Practices to reduce costs, offer a collaborative approach and serve us best for the future.