What are the benefits of rechargeable batteries for rechargeable hearing aid solutions?
Ross Dueber: There are benefits in three key areas – better performance, better for patients and professionals, and better for the planet.
In terms of performance, ZPower gives wearers the continuous use of their hearing aids throughout the day. Rather than taking the hearing aid off at night and opening the battery door or replacing the battery, ultimately we are moving to a solution where you will simply take your hearing aid off and put it into a charger. Development is in the works to eventually make such a model the industry standard.
As you know, there is wireless revolution occurring in hearing aids, that includes wireless connectivity between aids, and wireless connectivity to other devices such as smart phones, music players, televisions, etc. Wireless streaming puts a greater demand on the batteries. Traditionally, patients were replacing disposable batteries every one to two weeks. Now if they are taking advantage of wireless streaming, they may be replacing them in less than one week.
It’s interesting to note that the growth of disposable hearing aid batteries in terms of usage is twice the rate of the growth in hearing aid sales. Clearly, we are using more and more batteries in our hearing aids today and that is only going to continue to grow as additional functionality is being built into hearing aids.
Rechargeable technology gives wearers the assurance of all day operation so that they do not have worry about changing batteries at an inopportune time. You charge it at night just like you charge your smart phone. There is no longer a need to run out and buy batteries on a regular basis or carry spare batteries. All the little accessories that have been developed over the years to accommodate battery changing really go away. There is no more counseling patients on pulling the tab off and waiting one minute for the battery to activate, or to listen for beeps in their hearing aids.
In our field trials, patients told us that the number one value proposition was the assurance that the battery was not going to die at an inopportune time. They would not have to fumble for a replacement in a meeting or excuse themselves to go change a battery at a theater.
Professionals will have more satisfied patients. Offering rechargeable solutions will give you a competitive differentiation from what maybe exists today. We do not necessarily see rechargeable batteries as a retail purchase for consumers, but rather something that will be delivered via the professional channel and the manufacturers themselves. It puts audiologists at the leading edge of new technology and attracts patients to their offices who may want to upgrade their technology to the latest and greatest.
Up until this point, professionals have really only looked at rechargeable solutions for specific patients, such as those who are older and do not have the dexterity to change batteries on a regular basis. They think that’s where rechargeable technology should fit. We are saying that rechargeable technology should be the norm. At least initially, we are working on compatibility with disposables so that the solutions we provide enable you to have the best of both worlds so to speak. We recognize that there is certainly a place for zinc air technology today and we do not want the market to quit cold turkey. Looking to the future, however, we have to change the thinking of professionals to understand the benefits of a new standard that is rechargeable technology versus disposables.
In terms of the environment, we do not generally think of batteries as adding significant waste to the environment, but when you do the numbers it is pretty compelling. We are estimating right now that about 1.4 billion disposable hearing aid batteries go into landfills each year. That is every year. When we do the calculations for the packaging and the weight of those batteries, that is over 3 million pounds of waste annually that goes into landfills. Traditional hearing aid batteries are not recycled. They are simply tossed into the waste stream. Based on the growth rate of hearing aid battery sales, the number is doubling every 9 years. So in 9 years, that 3 million pounds will grow to 6 million pounds of waste. That is simply not acceptable in this day and age.
With ZPower, you will optimally use one battery per aid per year, which will significantly cut down on the waste. Additionally, we will recycle our batteries to recover and reuse the material, and to prevent any batteries going into the waste stream. That is a significant transition from the paradigm today of disposability to rechargeability and recyclability.