There has been much debate regarding the potential impact of instant-fit hearing instruments. How do you envision the future of these products, and how they will enhance or detract from sales of custom products?
Let's start by defining ''instant-fit'' hearing aids. Instant-fit aids are usually, but not always, in-the-ear hearing aids manufactured by automated assembly processes, built with standardized housings, and mated with soft, flexible non-custom ear tips of various sizes. Instant-fit hearing aids are here to stay and their market share will increase over time as:
(a) manufacturers continue to improve product performance,
(b) hearing care professionals realize the product advantages,
(c) consumers take advantage of the lower retail prices.
Instant-fit hearing aids are part of an industry transition from full ''factory customization'' to complete device customization in the HCP's office.
The first step in this transition occurred a decade ago with the introduction of ''programmable'' aids, which allowed the HCP to control device electroacoustics in the office. This new, second step of using pre-made cores and multi-sized soft sleeves removes the requirement of individualized, hard-plastic hearing aid shell. The combined approach empowers the HCP to not only control the sound quality, but also the device fit and comfort, without having to resort to device customization from the manufacturer.
By way of analogy, for most of us, the purchase of ''off-the-rack'' clothing accompanied by minor alternations satisfies our personal needs. Some of us, however, still spend the extra money to obtain ''fully tailored'' clothing in order to obtain that perfect fit. Instant-fit hearing aids are analogous to off-the-rack clothing in that they are produced in advance of our need and pre-sized for a range of physical dimensions. Minor alterations occur when the audiologist fine-tunes the hearing aid response using it's programmable circuitry. The full ''factory-customized'' aids are analogous to the fully-tailored clothing because both are made after the need is identified, using individual physical measurements, requiring days, if not weeks, to make, with additional wear time for adjustments to obtain the final fit.
Over time, the nature of the clothing industry changed because off-the-rack clothing with minor tailoring provided excellent goods at significantly less cost than fully-tailored clothing. Over time, HCPs and consumers will find that instant-fit hearing aids will do the same in our industry.
Victor Bray is the Vice President of Auditory Research for SONIC Innovations™, a Salt Lake City company founded to design, manufacture, and market a new generation of superior-performing DSP hearing aids. He was instrumental in the research and development of the nine-channel NATURA™, CONFORMA™, and ALTAIR™ hearing aids and the EXPRESSfit™ fitting system for NOAH and for PalmPilot.
Dr. Bray has degrees in Biochemistry, Audiology, and Speech & Hearing Science. He is a third-generation hearing aid dispenser, having obtained direct retail experience while managing a Beltone office for his family's hearing aid business. He has extensive clinical experience in diagnostics, hearing aid dispensing, and cochlear implant rehabilitation. He lectures internationally on the clinical application of advanced technologies to improve hearing aid performance and increase consumer satisfaction.
Click here to visit the Sonic Innovations website.