Interview with Cameron Hay, President & CEO, Unitron
Topic: Product Innovations, Clinical Efficacy and Nearly Half a Million Downloads
CAROLYN SMAKA: Hi Cameron, thanks for your time today. I really enjoyed the Unitron exhibit at AudiologyNOW! Can you please give our readers an overview of what's new with Unitron?
CAMERON HAY: Yes, we have quite a few exciting things happening.
We recently launched FUSE, our marquee product. It's what we call our first crossover product;it's a new form factor that marries the best attributes of open fit BTEs with CICs. It's an instant fitting, very small instrument with virtually zero occlusion.
FUSE is Unitron's marquee product. It is an instant-fit solution that
combines the best of CICs and open fit BTEs, and is available in a range of technology.
It's an incredibly comfortable fitting with an articulating joint. So it moves as you move. As you move your jaw, the articulating joint will move up to 30 degrees. Because it's a very comfortable, discrete fit, and very high-tech it's attracted a lot of interest. People that have introduced it in their practice are seeing a lot of response from first time hearing aid wearers because it's something new and different and it looks high-tech. It doesn't look like a traditional hearing instrument.
SMAKA: I tried a demo at AudiologyNOW! and it fit my ear perfectly. What technology does FUSE offer?
HAY: FUSE is available with a choice of technology levels, including Unitron's premium hearing instrument, Passport, and our advanced product lines, Latitude 16 and Latitude 8. Features include smartFocus™ technology, self learning capabilities and automatic programs. So if you've fit any of those products, you'll have the same features in the FUSE product, and you can fit it right out of the box.
SMAKA: That makes product selection easy.
Another significant piece of news for us isn't actually a new product but proof points for our Passport and Latitude products. This proof is regarding the clinical efficacy of the SmartFocus feature. SmartFocus is an algorithm that combines four adaptive features into a synergistic effect. Two independent, accredited universities, Louisiana Tech University and the University of Rochester, conducted a study involving 22 participants at each site. They found that SmartFocus improves speech understanding in noise by 16 percent over what is considered a gold standard, one of the very best fully automatic hearing aids. This is the first time in over a decade that a hearing aid manufacturer has been able to clinically demonstrate improving the signal-to-noise ratio in the worst listening environment possible. The tests were conducted in an environment with noise coming from all around, and speech coming from the front. This is a very difficult listening environment, and right out of the box without having to do any adjustment they found SmartFocus provided a 16 percent improvement.
A University of Iowa study demonstrated an overwhelming preference for the user control provided by SmartFocus.
In addition, a study that was done at the University of Iowa demonstrated an overwhelming preference for the user control that comes with SmartFocus. SmartFocus enables the wearer the ability to change the level of comfort and the level of clarity in real-time depending on his or her listening needs.
SMAKA: Are these articles being published?
HAY: Yes, publications will follow, and some of the data was presented in the sessions at AudiologyNOW!
[Carolyn - readers can find white papers and study summaries on our website at: unitron.com/smartfocus]
SMAKA: If I were wearing a Passport now, and listening to you, how would I change the level of comfort or clarity?
HAY: If you wanted to concentrate on my voice you may scroll the wheel on the Smart Control up slightly to hear my voice better. SmartFocus would zoom in on my voice by increasing the level of directionality, increasing the speech enhancement, increasing the noise reduction, and increasing the gain a bit. Then, if you were just walking around the noisy convention hall at AudiologyNOW! you may scroll it down to make things more comfortable. Traditionally, in this case, you'd have to turn down the volume overall and sacrifice some audibility for the sake of comfort. SmartFocus gives you the choice;in the same environment your goals may change and you can adjust your instruments accordingly in real time.
Then of course we also have the LearnNow™ button on Passport that we introduced with Yuu products. I call it the "I like it" button. By pressing the LearnNow button, wearers can set the hearing aid to his or her preferred settings in a given listening environment. The next time the wearer is in that environment, the hearing aid will automatically reset itself to the preferred settings.
SMAKA: Sounds great. Cameron, can we switch gears and talk about smart alerts?
HAY: Yes, we introduced our Smart Alert™ System at AudiologyNOW!, and it gave way to our theme at the convention, Innovations for Real Life. We call the system Hear your Home, and it was designed for people that value independent living.
We know that adults with hearing loss often seek amplification to hear their friends and families. They value independent living. They may be widows or widowers, and they may live alone, but they want to be able to stay at home and live full, safe, complete lives. Our smart alert system uses an innovative, new remote control that enables household alerts such as the smoke detector, doorbell, and telephone to communicate with the wearer's hearing instrumenst. So you could be out in your back garden, and hear somebody ring the doorbell. Your Smart Alert remote will vibrate, and you'll also hear a beep in your hearing aid. In that sense, you actually have better hearing than people without hearing loss.
SMAKA: That's exactly what I was thinking.
HAY: So, if you have a mother or father with hearing loss, you don't have to worry that they may not hear the telephone when you call. You don't have to wonder if they don't answer - did they fall? Are they sick? It's a huge peace of mind that they'll be able to hear the telephone ring, and they'll know if a smoke detector goes off. At night, the remote control goes in a charger at your bedside and activates a bed shaker. So if the telephone rang or the smoke alarm were to go off at night, it would shake and wake the person up.
This is a huge value and allows professionals to not just treat the ears, but to improve lifestyle, which is what people really want.
Smart Alert™ System is the first fully integrated hearing and alerting system that enables household alerts to communicate directly with hearing instruments.
SMAKA: Which hearing aids work with the Smart Alert System?
HAY: It works with all of our latest product lines - Passport, Latitude and 360+.
It's a great way to engage in a conversation for someone using older technology. It's yet another reason why to consider newer technology. It's more than just hearing - it's
supporting your entire lifestyle and your life objectives. It's about safety, security, and independence, and knowing that your family will feel comfortable and have round-the-clock peace of mind, too.
SMAKA: A much more meaningful discussion for a consumer than the latest signal processing features. Thanks for that overview.
Last summer I spoke with Don Hayes about uHear, the iPhone application. How is that going?
uHear, Unitron's iPhone & iPod application, has approached half a million downloads.
HAY: We have approached now approximately 500,000 downloads. It's really phenomenal. It is the largest, single, self-hearing screening ever made and the feedback we are getting is amazing. You can go to iTunes and read the comments. People are saying, "You know I suspected I had hearing loss. This confirmed it. I guess I better go do something about my hearing." Or, "I just always wondered and now I know."
Parents have tested their kids. "So now I know how my son or daughter is hearing." We know from MarkeTrak that often people do not receive a hearing screening from their physicians. We also know that some people are hesitant to walk in that door for the first time to an audiologist. Even my own mother needed hearing aids and it wasn't until I sat down with her at the kitchen table, ran uHear and showed her the results, that she decided to do something about it. She said, "Yes, you're right. I knew it. We should go get a hearing aid or at least talk to a professional."
SMAKA: Wow. When you were developing it, did you ever think that half a million people would download it?
HAY: I have to be honest. I always thought it was going to be hugely successful. I had a bet with our VP of Marketing. He thought it would be successful if it received 10,000 downloads. I said, "No, it will be ten times that and I'll bet you a bottle of champagne." Then I tried to go double or nothing but he said no. [laughs]
What we know, of course, is that people download it and test themselves. But they also may test their parents, their grandparents, their friends and so on. So if there's 500,000 downloads there's probably more than a million people that have been tested with it.
SMAKA: That's true - 500,000 is not counting actual uses, it's just the downloads.
HAY: Right. It's great to raise the whole conversation about hearing performance, hearing protection, what to do with if you believe you have a hearing loss, and where to go to get tested. There's a locate function in the application so if you want to know where to go to get tested, it will give you a list of professionals in the area. And, using the device's GPS system, it will even provide directions.
uHear is not designed to replace a professional test in a sound booth with professional equipment. However, we still found the Apple hardware to be very good in terms of providing repeatable results, having a very good amplifier that delivers the tones at the desired frequencies and amplitudes. We did a lot of testing and validation. It's designed to get people into the conversation about their hearing, and to go to a professional and have a hearing test. In that regard it's been very successful.
SMAKA: It even says that in the app itself. And it's very colorful and simple to use.
HAY: Yeah, and it's cool. The iPod is cool and hearing sometimes isn't seen as cool. It helps raise the awareness of our whole industry in a very positive way.
We're going to continue to develop that application over time to make it more useful in the hands of our customers, for open houses and such. We know professionals who have already used it in that way. We also had an audiologist tell us that she has a patient with Meniere's Disease who uses uHear to test and track his fluctuating hearing at home. He then brings the results to his audiologist or his physician and it helps them gauge how his hearing may be fluctuating.
SMAKA: Lots going on at Unitron. You also have a new U.S. president, correct?
HAY: Yes. We have a great team here in the U.S. including a new president and CEO, Rodney Schutt. He has a very strong medical products background including 18 years at General Electric, in the GE Healthcare industry. We're a company that has strong values and he builds upon that. HeI is a tremendous asset to Unitron.
SMAKA: Cameron, it is a pleasure catching up with you and I appreciate your time. Thank you.
HAY: Thank you.
Unitron is a global innovator of technologically advanced hearing instruments. We care deeply about people with hearing loss and work closely with hearing healthcare professionals to make advanced, purpose-driven solutions available to everyone. Headquartered in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, Unitron, a member of the Sonova Group, meets the needs of customers through 16 international offices and through distributors in a further 53 countries. More information about Unitron can be found at the Unitron Web Channel on AudiologyOnline, as well as by visiting www.unitron.com.