Interview with Kathy Costa, Product Manager, Oticon
Topic: Oticon ConnectLine
Carolyn Smaka: Hello, Kathy. Thanks for talking with me today about Oticon's ConnectLine™ system. Let's start with the basics - what is ConnectLine?
Kathy Costa: Thanks for having me, Carolyn. ConnectLine is an effective communication tool for people with all degrees of hearing loss. ConnectLine can open up the world for someone with hearing loss. Let me give you an example. Say that you want to give one of your older patients Bluetooth compatibility for a land line phone - why would you want to have that? A perfect case in point is my dad.
My dad is 82, and he wears two Oticon Epoq™ hearing aids. He can be forgetful. My problem as a caregiver is that when I call him on his land line cordless telephone, he often doesn't pick up because he forgets where he put the phone. It is not only frustrating if I need to reach him, but it also causes me to worry that something may be wrong. Sometimes I have to call him two or three times until he finally finds the phone, gets oriented, and answers. Using the Oticon Streamer and the ConnectLine phone adaptor, when I call him now, he hears the phone ringing in his hearing aids, and he sees a light illuminate on the Streamer that he wears around his neck. He simply pushes the button on the Streamer to answer the call. Now, he answers the phone the first time I call, since the whole process has been simplified for him.
As you can imagine, this has been a tremendous relief for me as the caregiver. ConnectLine is not only a benefit for the person with the hearing loss, but also for the caregivers.
SMAKA: You mentioned ConnectLine would benefit patients with all degrees of hearing loss?
COSTA: Absolutely. One of the major signature technologies in the modern hearing care plan is connectivity. ConnectLine is truly a communication tool for everybody. It is a major step ahead of the other systems out there. There are so many benefits and advantages. One obvious benefit is the fact that it provides a hands-free listening environment. If you use a Bluetooth headset with your cell phone, you know what a tremendous benefit this is, and many of us without hearing loss take that for granted. Also, the auto connect feature of the Streamer provides truly seamless connectivity with multiple devices and is something other protocols don't offer.
For example, say I was on a cell phone call in my car, and then I walk into my house and my land line phone rings. I can immediately take that land line phone call without shutting off my cell phone, and it happens automatically. I can also be watching television using ConnectLine's TV Adaptor, and enjoying the sound of the television directly through my hearing aids via the TV Adaptor. If either my land line phone or my cell phone rings while I'm watching television, I can hear it and decide if I want to take that call. It's a seamless connection that does not require any reconnecting or re-pairing when you switch devices.
Another really cool feature with the Streamer is that you can mute the microphones on the hearing aids. In the example above, if the phone rings while you're watching television, you can disable the hearing aid microphones and just go ahead and answer the phone. That's incredibly convenient, and if there are other people watching television, it benefits them as well as the volume of the television doesn't need to be lowered while you're on the phone. If there's any background noise on the street when you're taking a cell phone call, you can simply mute the hearing aid microphones and take the call without the distractions of surrounding noises. As soon as the call is over, you seamlessly go back to what you were listening to before you started streaming.
Streamer and ConnectLine feature an attractive, high tech design
SMAKA: It seems to me that we need to get away from the mindset of assistive listening devices (ALDs) when we think of ConnectLine.
COSTA: Exactly. When you think about ALDs, you may think about devices that pick up where the hearing aids left off, or that assist with patients who have very poor speech discrimination, but that isn't the case at all with ConnectLine.
When a person with hearing loss experiences ConnectLine, the hands-free benefit alone is practically a revelation. Think about how we have embraced Bluetooth® as a culture, because it allows us to talk on our cell phones hands-free. When someone with hearing loss finally experiences that capability and convenience, it's a real WOW factor. It enhances a person's quality of living, and offers a higher level of accessibility.
It is important to note that the ConnectLine is not intended to take the place of FM systems for use in a classroom.
I have a funny story about the WOW factor with ConnectLine. Interestingly, it was not the patient but the patient's wife who experienced the WOW. I was at an open house and the professional was demonstrating ConnectLine to a gentleman who didn't even like the idea of wearing hearing aids. So, in order to overcome his objection to amplification, Dual Connect was recommended. Dual's signature shape is really compelling, and it's nearly invisible on the ears, so it definitely fit his image much more than a more classic-looking hearing aid. We were demonstrating the TV Adaptor, and the professional had the kind of box that cut off the television's exterior speakers when it was connected. Well, the patient's wife got ecstatic thinking about using this with their television at home, and she said "You mean I don't have to hear any more golf matches if I don't want to?!"
I explained that this particular system is so flexible that if you want to mute or lower the sound to an inaudible level, you just plug it into the television's headphone jack. Then, his wife would be spared the agony of having to listen to another sporting event for as long as she lives, which was quite a benefit in her mind.
These are just a few examples of how people might use this system. It has really been fun for me having these types of interactions with people using ConnectLine, and seeing the enjoyment they getting out of this system.
SMAKA: Kathy, the way you describe it, ConnectLine sounds like an easy-to-use, plug and play system. How difficult is the initial set-up?
COSTA: This system is very easy and intuitive to set up, like any device in your home entertainment system.
In fact, it even comes with photographic instructions of how to install the TV Adaptor, which is a very simple task. The TV Adaptor is about 3" x 3" and only about ¼" high. It can be attached to the top or side of the television using Velcro. It has its own power supply, which is plugged into a standard wall outlet.
After plugging it in, you connect the Streamer to the TV using RCA cables, which typically have a red and white plug for each of the stereo output channels. In most cases, you'll look for the audio output jacks in the back of the TV and just plug the cables in to the jack of the same color. This way, the TV speakers are still on so others can watch TV as they normally would, while the person with the hearing impairment can listen to TV at his or her preferred volume using the Streamer. You also have the option of using the headphone jack on the TV as mentioned earlier, in which case the television speakers are muted. This is perfect for a situation where a person with hearing loss has his or her own television, for example, in the bedroom, and has a tendency to use it at a higher volume and disturb others in the household.
SMAKA: In which case ConnectLine would bring relief to the rest of the household.
COSTA: Exactly. Having seen my dad first hand use this system, I got very excited about it. It was really quite comical. After I installed the TV Adaptor, he wanted to try it out, so he went walking around his house while tuned in to the TV via his Streamer. He was looking at me, and he said "Oh, I can still hear the TV while I'm looking at you" and then he said, "I'm going to turn around now." He turned around so that he wasn't facing the TV and he said, "I can still hear it". Then he went into the bathroom, and then into the kitchen. It was almost like he was a little kid exploring the capabilities of his new toy. He didn't have a technical or intellectual understanding of the system;he was just simply playing around with it and having fun, and thinking that it was really cool!
Actual size: 3.4 in
The ConnectLine Phone box can be connected in parallel to the existing landline phone(s). The Phone box connects wirelessly to the Streamer and operates within a range of up to 30 feet.
SMAKA: What about pairing? I think people are pretty familiar with pairing now that Bluetooth is so commonplace, but what does ConnectLine require?
COSTA: Pairing is very simple. The professional can pair the devices in the office, or the patient can pair them at home. It just involves pushing a button - the Streamer has a pairing button, which is blue and will flash brightly when it's pairing. For the TV Adaptor, you just press the pairing button, put the Streamer on top of the TV Adaptor until the light flashes amber, and then it's ready. The phone adaptor has a red button indicator that will start blinking and then go steady when the phone is paired. And of course there are simple, step-by-step directions included.
The elegance of the design of Streamer is that it has the capability to adapt to emerging technology. In the future, when new adaptors become available, the Streamer will be compatible. Some other connectivity systems in the market from other manufacturers need to be paired at the factory, which is really inconvenient when you want to connect with new devices. Others use a push button on the back of the device that is not as easy to find or to use. ConnectLine considered such usability issues in the design to ensure that even seniors who may have dexterity issues or a bit slower of a response time, can experience its benefits and have success.
The Streamer is the gateway to connectivity, and ConnectLine is considered the adaptor system, whether it be the TV Adaptor or the phone adaptor. Satisfaction studies with hearing instrument wearers indicate that the TV and the telephone are very important to them. If they don't have satisfaction while using their hearing instruments with the telephone or television, they're going to return their hearing devices, or put them in the drawer. The ConnectLine system is going to bring more value to the hearing devices by helping to provide that satisfaction.
SMAKA: Can the benefits of ConnectLine be demonstrated in the professional's office?
COSTA: Absolutely. We designed ConnectLine to be very easy to demonstrate, because we know that when consumers are considering purchasing high-end hearing instruments, they need confidence that the investment is worth making.
You can have something as simple as a portable DVD player hooked up to the TV Adaptor for a very easy, compact demo right in your dispensing suite. It's not necessary to go out in to your lobby or front office where you may already have a TV. Or, you can demo using your cell phone. Simply have your patient wear demo hearing instruments, and listen to your cell phone via the Streamer! It's a very powerful demonstration, having observed a number of these personally. These are things that you can do that show value to the patient by having him or her directly experience the benefits of the hearing system.
There are some other very interesting approaches to marketing this system. For example, to demonstrate the DVD player, you may have a collection of movies that appeal to the different demographics of your patients. Perhaps a war movie or a classic western for an older demographic, along with X-Files or The Matrix for your younger patients. And since many patients come to their appointments with a partner, spouse or caregiver, you can involve the significant other in the demonstration.
While the patient is watching the DVD (streaming to the demo hearing instruments), you have the significant other call the patient using your cell phone. When the phone rings, the patient can experience the simplicity of pressing a button to answer the phone. Then, after hanging up the phone, the patient is automatically connected back to the DVD player seamlessly. This feature is very impressive.
SMAKA: It occurred to me that the demonstration process can save a great deal of time on the counseling end, so you spend a lot less time explaining and re-explaining, and instead you can give the customer hands-on counseling.
COSTA: I agree completely. In addition to being a timesaver, the ConnectLine demo can help ensure patients are going to be completely satisfied with their hearing devices. Having been in practice for 25 years, I know how important that is. And, satisfied customers contribute to one of the best forms of marketing - word of mouth.
SMAKA: Is there a demo kit available?
COSTA: Yes, the demo kit includes a demo Streamer, which can be used with any pair of Epoqs or Dual Connects, a TV Adaptor and a phone adaptor. It's very simple. We recommend considering purchase of a portable DVD player, which will run about $60. You don't have to get anything really fancy, just something that has an audio output jack so that you can make sure the sound is going to be heard for both the significant other, as well as the patient. A complete demo will take less than ten minutes, and in some cases, as few as five to six minutes. So the process is not at all time consuming, and it really couldn't be any easier.
A DVD called 'Connections for Life' goes out with each Epoq and Dual Connect instrument. It's a wonderful introduction for the family and the patient to see what the system is all about. If the professional doesn't get to demonstrate connectivity during the initial session, they can give the person the DVD and explain something like, "Look, this is something your hearing instruments can do. Take a look at it, and then when you come back we can talk a little bit more about ConnectLine".
We've also been told that Connections for Life is used extensively in waiting rooms because it effectively demonstrates how connectivity has become a very important part of our lives. On it, you'll see someone watching TV via the Streamer, taking a phone call from his grandson and then going back to watch TV. It's something everyone can relate to and it highlights the ease and convenience of the system.
SMAKA: Kathy, what about the latency problems we heard about with Bluetooth in the early days?
COSTA: ConnectLine uses an integrated protocol with our RISE microchip platform. This eliminates the latency problem and also ensures superior sound quality because the system works in synchrony − the hearing instruments, the Streamer, and the ConnectLine. It's an integrated protocol for sound quality - all components of the system work together in unison. The latency problem that many off-the-shelf Bluetooth devices were previously having is not an issue with ConnectLine.
Also, the integrated protocol ensures that when adaptors for other devices in the future are available - be it for enjoyment or education, or whatever new applications emerge − that the sound quality will be preserved because they will be based on the same protocol.
Another important feature of the integrated protocol is that the hearing instruments perform the way they are intended to perform while using ConnectLine. Dual Connect XW and Epoq XW instruments maintain their binaural processing is maintained. Hearing aid features do not need to be turned off in order to use ConnectLine. Nothing is compromised with the integrated protocol.
Actual size: 3.1 in
The ConnectLine TV box is connected to a suitable audio output from the TV. The TV box connects wirelessly to the Streamer with a range of up to 30 feet.
SMAKA: How does ConnectLine affect the battery drain of the hearing instruments?
COSTA: Because of the efficiency of the processing, we get minimal battery drain while the instruments are streaming. That's a very important factor, especially for people who use the phone all day, like sale reps for example.
SMAKA: Do you still find there is confusion surrounding Bluetooth?
COSTA: Initially with Epoq, and we found some professionals having anxiety of learning how to work with Bluetooth, and a lot of people at that time didn't have a Bluetooth enabled cell phone.
More and more people are using Bluetooth now, and we've built this system to be as flexible as possible. With this system, it is really so simple to demonstrate with the phone and TV, and in doing so provide the patient with an epiphany that the system really works.
SMAKA: Kathy, where can people go for additional information about ConnectLine?
COSTA: We have a ConnectLine website that has great information including a series of videos that demonstrate ConnectLine.
SMAKA: Kathy, I can tell you're very passionate about ConnectLine, and it's been great speaking with you about it.
COSTA: It's been an incredibly exciting product to work with, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about it. As I mentioned previously, connectivity is one of the major signature technologies of today's hearing care plan, and ConnectLine has unique benefits and advantages that no other system offers. Thank you so much for all your time.
SMAKA: You bet, it's been my pleasure.
Oticon is one of the most innovative hearing aid manufacturers on the market. With more than 100 years of experience, Oticon has spearheaded a number of technological breakthroughs which have made a significant difference for people with hearing loss. Oticon is the only hearing aid manufacturer with its own research center, ensuring that the needs of hearing aid users are always put first when developing new solutions. For more information about Oticon, please visit www.oticonusa.com/ or on the Oticon web Channel on AudiologyOnline.
Product Manager, Oticon Medical