Interview with Alina Urdaneta, Vice President of Marketing and Training, and Eric Branda, Au.D., Senior Manager of Product Management, Siemens Hearing Instruments
CAROLYN SMAKA: Alina and Eric, nice to talk to you again. There was a recent announcement about some new products in your lineup. Can you give us an overview?
ALINA URDANETA: It would be our pleasure. We made an announcement at the ADA convention in order to address the need for customization and custom hearing instrument solutions for the growing baby boomer patient base. We realize that, from a market standpoint, there has been a decline in custom products during the past few years and a shift toward behind-the-ear (BTE) products for a number of reasons. For one, BTE instruments are stock products that a hearing care professional can simply take off the shelf and immediately fit the patient. Another influencing factor in this market shift is the fact that some BTE products are also open fit and very comfortable, such as the slim tube and receiver-in-canal (RIC) products that Siemens offers
We do recognize, however, that there is still a time and a place, as well as a need, for custom products in the marketplace. In response, we have made adjustments and improvements to our manufacturing process in order to create smaller hearing instruments, and we have rounded out our portfolio to include three new custom products. At the same time, we have also added an extension line to our BTE products, an instant-fit device, and enhancements to the iScan.
SMAKA: Wow, lots going on! Tell me about the three new custom products.
URDANETA: Back in March, we launched the iMini™, at the 701 technology level. The iMini 301 is now available, which offers a more affordable price point.
Siemens iMini™ is now available in both 701 and 301 technology levels
In terms of CICs, we currently have a very small CIC product, Motion CIC, which was the first wireless CIC on the market. We have now extended the line to include the Motion® CIC Special Edition. This product was designed for those patients who are not good candidates for the iMini because of the dimensions of their ear canal. The Motion CIC Special Edition is extremely small, our smallest CIC, as a matter of fact, and it has the same pleasing sleek design as the iMini. It is available in 12 jewel-toned colors and a dark faceplate that makes it almost invisible when worn.
Siemens Motion® CIC Special Edition is available in 12 jewel-toned colors. With its dark faceplate, it is almost invisible when worn
We are also introducing the Motion® Mini, a very, very small in-the-canal (ITC) solution. It is smaller than both the original Motion ITC and the Nitro ITC.
We're pleased to round out our custom product portfolio with these three very small solutions, as we know size is typically a priority for hearing care professionals when they recommend a custom device. Aesthetics and discretion play an important role in the selection and fitting of custom products, and we designed these products to address each of these needs.
Siemens Motion® Mini
In addition to the new custom solutions, we have a new instant-fit, ready-to-wear, in-the-ear (ITE) product - the Motion EZ. It has been extremely successful in Japan, and we are excited about launching Motion EZ here in the U.S.
SMAKA: Who is a candidate for the Motion EZ?
URDANETA: The Motion EZ is ideal for those consumers who are not ready to commit to impressions and purchasing a hearing instrument but at the same time want to find out what benefits they can expect from amplification. The Motion EZ is a very attractive, very small ITC solution that can be fit off the shelf to approximately 72% of wearers here in the U.S. This percentage was calculated based on the fit rate of this device to our database of ear impressions from patients here in the U.S.
SMAKA: What's new with iScan?
URDANETA: iScan is a tried and true e-ordering tool introduced six years ago that enhances the productivity and the effectiveness of the hearing care professional. We've now made some improvements to the iScan platform. Scanning time has been reduced to less than two minutes, and we have also opened up the platform to enable the professional to place orders from other hearing aid companies and earmold labs.
The iScan e-ordering tool now has a faster, open platform.
We know that office space is typically at a premium in hearing care offices. Now iScan is the one tool that can be used to scan and place custom product and earmold orders from any manufacturer. In addition, professionals' time is very valuable, and so from a workflow standpoint there is a huge benefit to professionals with iScan's faster, open platform. Faster turnaround with iScan is key to a successful custom product fitting, as the last thing you want to do is deter the patient from selecting a custom product because it takes too long to receive it. Once placed in the iScan, the impression is digitally scanned in less than two minutes. Once scanned, the order is sent via an e-form to Siemens, and we immediately start building the instrument. We have the ability to build and send it out in less than 48 hours, and that very quick turnaround benefits both the professional and the patient.
SMAKA: What changes in the manufacturing processes made these new custom solutions possible?
URDANETA: Essentially what we've tried to do is capitalize on the strengths of our custom product portfolio and build upon them by making the products even smaller.
To achieve that goal, we first worked on our modeling software. In August, Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ, 6th district), our representative to the U.S. Congress, paid us a visit to see all the innovations we have made in manufacturing.
Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ, 6th district) during his visit to Siemens manufacturing facility last fall.
On top of improved modeling software, we also brought in-house ten positions that had previously been outsourced to China. The reason for that was to have hearing care professionals and modelers together on the same floor in order to facilitate collaboration and ultimately to build a better product.
We've also created more flexibility in the manufacturing process and are using even smaller components. By using smaller components, we can not only build smaller products, but we now have room to build larger vents. As you well know, one of the common obstacles to adoption of custom products is occlusion, so smaller components and larger vents yield better patient satisfaction. In addition, use of floating components enables us to build a smaller product, and we're very keen on making sure that we have instantaneous telecoil operation at all performance levels, just to name a few other improvements.
SMAKA: In addition to the recent custom product introductions, Pure® Carat was launched recently, correct?
URDANETA: Yes, an extension to our Pure line of RIC devices, Pure® Carat High Power was launched in September. It is the combination of a small, discreet RIC design with a high-power receiver in a tiny custom shell.
In terms of extensions, we also now offer the Pure® Limited Edition, which is essentially our most popular RIC product in a beautiful and elegant new shell. This is an exclusive product for members of our Aspire Rewards program. We timed the launch with Alzheimer's Awareness Month in November and are doing a very worthwhile campaign based on the recent studies from Johns Hopkins and other institutions that indicate a potential relationship between hearing loss and the early onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Siemens contributed $10.00 from the sale of each Pure Limited Edition (LE) in November, and offered hearing care professionals the opportunity to contribute an additional $10.00 every time they ordered a Pure LE. We felt that it would be very fitting to use Alzheimer's Awareness Month to launch this product and at the same time contribute to The Alzheimer's Association, a non-profit organization that provides information, support and research funding.
Siemens Pure® Limited Edition. In support of Alzheimer's Awareness Month in November, Siemens donated $10.00 from the sale of every Pure® Limited Edition to The Alzheimer's Association
SMAKA: The studies showing a link between hearing loss and early dementia received considerable media attention. I think it's smart to keep attention on that issue and raise awareness of hearing loss and solutions. Thanks for all the information, Alina.
Eric, from an audiology standpoint, who are good candidates for the new custom products?
ERIC BRANDA: When we launched the iMini 701 there were a lot of requests to offer it at a different performance level to open it up to more patients and wearers. With the iMini 301, we still maintain the invisibility claim as well as the jewel-inspired colors. Good candidates are patients seeking the cosmetic benefits of iMini but in another performance level. We have also made some changes to the manufacturing process to have a better fit rate and still maintain invisibility. We'd like to point out that we don't require a very deep impression;a good, standard impression is all that is needed.
Motion CIC Special Edition is designed for people who are interested in the cosmetic aspects of iMini, but they may not be a candidate for a truly invisible product. In this case, while it may not be invisible let's offer them the smallest CIC possible for their ear, and that's the Motion CIC Special Edition, which is available in the same technology levels as the iMini: 701 and 301.
Moving up in size a little bit more brings us to the Motion Mini, which is an ITC using a 312 battery. If you view the iMini as a smaller version of a CIC, then Motion Mini is like a smaller version of an ITC. It uses a different faceplate design with a vertical layout for the battery to help make a more cosmetically-appealing instrument, designed for the patient who prioritizes discreetness but wants the ease of use of a 312 battery. We take away things like directional microphones and volume controls and wireless capability that take up room in the instrument in order to keep it small and discreet. A push button option is available, as well as gain options of 40, 45 and 50, and performance levels of 701, 501 and 301.
The Motion EZ, as Alina mentioned, is a stock custom product utilizing an ITC-type design with the 312 battery. It's basically "one-size-fits-almost-all." The conical design easily fits in the majority of ears, and there's a string concha lock to help hold it into place. With a 40 gain and BestSound™ Technology including FeedbackStopper™, it is intended for mild-to-moderate loss or that beginning hearing aid user.
We also allow for some slit leakage that provides automatic venting to keep it comfortable and acceptable right from the start. The Motion EZ is for someone who is looking to receive an instrument the same-day, is concerned about the aesthetics of their hearing aid and is more interested in an in-the-ear-style instrument rather than a behind-the-ear or RIC style.
URDANETA: It also has a very attractive retail packaging, intended precisely for that first-time hearing aid user that's kind of on the fence. Do I want to buy a hearing aid or not? From a marketing standpoint and from a visual standpoint, it provides a more enticing kind of package. It is our ready-to-wear product for those people that want to explore the benefits of a hearing aid but are not ready to commit to something that's more involved. It gives the hearing care professional an opportunity to offer a very aesthetically pleasing device at a very affordable price.
SMAKA: Before we wrap up, tell me about the Pure Carat with the 75 dB receiver. Does this require a custom shell for the receiver?
BRANDA: Yes. With Pure, we offer 45, 55 and 65 dB receivers with an assortment of domes, and we allow for earmold fittings as well. With the Pure Carat using the 75 dB receiver, we marry our RIC technology and our knowledge in custom product technology using a custom-made shell for the receiver that resembles a CIC. Pure Carat was designed for patients with severe-to-profound hearing loss that want something cosmetically appealing with functionality such as a t-coil as well as a toggle for volume control or program change. By using the custom shell with the receiver, we can now offer 75 gain and 130 dB output in an attractive, discreet RIC design that uses a size 13 battery.
SMAKA: Thanks for your time today. Where should we direct people for more information?
BRANDA: Thanks, Carolyn.
For more information, please visit www.usa.siemens.com/hearing or the Siemens web channel on AudiologyOnline.