The hearing aid conversation that needs to happen

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“It’s the economy, you idiot!”

Before it became a popular culture reference, that 1992 line by Democratic strategist James Carville was an important reminder to Bill Clinton’s campaign staff: Keep it simple, keep the facts and stay focused on what matters.

Thirty years later, hearing aids have become a political boxing bag. As in 1992, no one is asking the right questions about hearing health care.

In 2017, Congress created a new class of hearing aids for sale in pharmacies to people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released proposed rules about these devices that addressed everything from sound limits to labeling. In the period of public comment that followed, the Food and Drug Administration inundated the concerns of health organizations, countless audiology professionals, and the attorney general in nearly every state. Almost all said, as indicated, these devices likely do more harm than good. While we wait for the Food and Drug Administration to release the final rules that will send the over-the-counter devices to market, we should look at how we got here.

The root of the confusion about hearing aids, and the point that must be addressed to open up more access to care, is not a cost; it’s a expertise And the Care. For three decades, consumer electronics companies have repeated one line: A hearing aid is a consumer electronic device, and manufacturers are overcharging people. These companies believe the device is the “solution,” ignoring the role of the audiologist. Hearing is One A piece of the puzzle should include expert care to ensure patient safety and satisfaction.

As hearing aids become part of a political debate, let’s look at the hearing healthcare process as a presidential campaign. Party nomination is like hearing assessment, like hearing impairment as a candidate. No two are the same, and it takes time to sort out the differences. The assessment determines the type of loss the person suffers. After that, the presidential debates begin. While the choice of a hearing aid is not as controversial as the discussion, it is a process. Just as the debate gives clarity to the electorate, the patient must understand how the device can help. The patient’s unique hearing loss and lifestyle factor in device selection. It all comes together on Voting Day. The patient begins to experience results during the fitting, but it is not the last step. The purchase of this medical device includes professional care for the life of your hearing aid – adjustments, follow-up appointments, cleaning, and device warranties. Buying is not the finish line but the starting point.

It is often this combined approach that includes audiologist care that Washington ignores and what consumer electronics companies reject. For 30 years, these companies have dipped their toes into the hearing industry, quickly learning that hearing aids are not a commodity. The idea of ​​constant returns and service, with very little margins, made most companies pack up their stores. They want to sell a product and move on. They believe the same business model for headphones and earphones can be replicated to sell a medical device. When hearing health is such an essential part of life, the process cannot be so simple.

Since 2014, Bose said it had a solution, telling consumers and lawmakers that manufacturers were overcharging people. After years of lobbying Congress to create an over-the-counter class, Bose hearing department closed Just as the FDA is expected to issue OTC regulations. Like Zenith, 3M, Sony, Panasonic, Philips, Bausch and Lomb and Johnson and Johnson, Bose exited the industry as quickly as it entered. There is one element these companies continue to ignore: sponsorship. Patients need more than a do-it-yourself approach to hearing health.

While it is easy to dismiss the Bose news as a business decision, we must ask why this argument is good enough. Bose changed the hearing industry, and I welcome that change. If OTC hearing aids even help One Someone with a hearing impairment, that’s a good thing. While I join many professional organizationsAnd the State Public Prosecution And audiologists around the country are concerned about upcoming OTC regulations, I believe if over-the-counter hearing aids have adequate protective barriers to protect patient safety and satisfaction, they could be a valuable addition to the market. However, the simplistic view of the “experts” outside the hearing industry cannot cause confusion, damage the reputation of the hearing aid, or diminish the importance of hearing professionals.

I hope Bose’s sudden departure will be a turning point in the conversation about over-the-counter hearing aids–a conversation that should finally focus on the patient, not the profits.

It’s not just about cost; It is about care. Simply. Hearing is essential, and hearing loss shouldn’t be a political punch. Ignoring the importance of medical device technology and the role of the audiologist is not in the patient’s best interest. It’s time for the consumer electronics companies and Washington to focus on the things that matter.

Brandon Swalitch He is the president and CEO of Starkey Corporation, an audio device manufacturer based in Eden Prairie. On Twitter: BrandonSawalich.