How can rechargeable hearing aid solutions help audiologists respond to disruptive market forces like PSAPs, as well as increased competition?
That’s a great question. Before I answer it, I want to discuss the broader context for audiologists to consider. In the past several years, we’ve seen a shift from traditional, clinical practices that focus on a wide spectrum of audiological services, to practices that now focus specifically on product sales. If you look at consumer advertising, you will see that the majority of practices are promoting new hearing aid technology. And if you look at key performance indicators (KPI) today, you will see things like closing rates, sales opportunities, and average selling price right at the top of the list. When I ran a practice, KPIs included the number of ABR, VNG and auditory processing evaluations, and the number of adults versus pediatrics seen. In other words, historically, the KPIs focused on a wide range of diagnostic and rehabilitative services – not just product sales. Today, it seems that it’s all about the product and the product has become the center of our universe.
We’ve also seen more and more vertical integration in the hearing care industry. Now, all the leading manufacturers also are the leading retailers, in direct competition with independent practices.
By contrast, our professional organizations have initiatives to increase our autonomy. Whether it’s achieving LLP (limited licensed physician) status such as the 18 x 18 Initiative–audiologists want to be recognized as professionals that can diagnose, manage, and treat our patients.
If we just sell products we are moving in the opposite direction. It’s time for us, as a profession, to get back to our historic roots of diagnosing, managing, and treating hearing and balance issues.
Back to your question about differentiating our practices. We need to think about providing a full suite of services that distinguish our practices in the marketplace. We need to get back to the basics of what we’ve been trained to do, or otherwise we have just fallen into becoming sales people. That enables us to respond to disruptive forces, competition, and set ourselves apart from other professionals who may be looking to encroach on our scope of practice. That doesn’t mean that we don’t offer products, but it means that we need to offer services and care that truly set us apart in the marketplace.
I approach practice differentiation by asking the question, “What’s in your sandbox?” Where is your competition not playing, and how can you provide quality care for your patient that sets you apart from the competition? Rechargeable technology is a part of that.
I’ve spent the better part of the past year researching the rechargeable market. If you talk to consumers and ask them what they want in terms of hearing aids, they will say they want better batteries.
MarkeTrak 2008 indicated that consumers found hearing aid battery life less than satisfactory, and one of the factors that would increase the likelihood that people would buy new hearing aids was rechargeability. In 2008, a hearing aid battery lasted one to two weeks. Today, if you’re talking about a product that’s wireless and streaming, you may be changing the battery every three to four days. Amyn Amlani at the University of North Texas has looked at factors that influence patients’ decision making and purchasing. He reports that rechargeability is among the top of the list of features of what people are looking for; they want a product that’s rechargeable. He thinks rechargeability could potentially grow the market by six to eight percent.
Additionally, the new MarkeTrak 9 study ranked the most compelling features sought by non-owners of hearing aids. “A rechargeable hearing aid” and “rechargeable batteries for hearing aids” were ranked #2 and #4 on their wish list.
In terms of other high-end consumer products, what other products require you to change the battery every three days? It’s unheard of. For information on ZPower's new rechargeable solution for hearing aids, please visit www.zpowerbattery.com
This Ask the Expert is an excerpt of an AudiologyOnline interview with Dr. Freeman on this topic. Read the full interview here.