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Unitron Hear Life - November 2023

Interview with Mike Jones President and CEO, Unitron Hearing

Mike Jones

July 7, 2003
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AO/Beck: Good morning Mike. Thanks for meeting with me today.

Jones: Hi Doug. Nice to be with you again.

AO/Beck: Mike, I know Unitron Hearing has offices all over the world. Can you tell me where they're located?

Jones: Unitron Hearing has group companies in the United States, Canada and Germany. We are currently expanding to include the United Kingdom and Australia.

AO/Beck: And you recently became the president and CEO of Unitron Hearing?

Jones: Yes, as of January 1, 2002.

AO/Beck: Mike, as an industry leader, what are your thoughts and impressions of where we are as an industry? How are the products doing?

Jones: I think we clearly have better solutions today, at least from a product standpoint, than we've ever had before. The products are excellent and they continue to improve all the time. Perhaps the bigger question is Why isn't the market growing ?

AO/Beck: Right - let's go with that!

Jones: Consumer sentiments about stock markets, war, uncertainty about the future and related issues, all impact sales of hearing instruments. Our products are the types of items that represent to the consumer, something that can be postponed! Another thing to consider, and it's a mixed blessing, is that hearing aids are better now than ever before, and they last longer, so they need to be replaced less often.

AO/Beck: I used to tell patients they could expect three or four years from a good set of hearing aids. Is that about right?

Jones: I think the average currently is almost 5 years and I think it's clear that consumers are keeping them longer.

AO/Beck: What are the primary issues hearing aid manufacturers are addressing?

Jones: Acoustic feedback is an issue, wax in the microphone is an issue, wind noise is still an issue, and of course, background noise is still an issue. We've seen a number of terrific and innovative solutions for these problems, and we can handle these issues better than ever before, but until they are maximally solved and the solutions are available to everyone, we have to keep improving the technology and the products.

AO/Beck: I think you're right, we need to realize the products are very good, but we need to continually make them better. What about the professionals? What are your thoughts regarding the people on the front lines?

Jones: Training and education are better than ever, and they'll get better still. But frankly, I think we need more hearing health care professionals. Although we are producing better trained professionals, as they work on their doctorates and other credentials, they often take time away from their offices to accomplish their educational and professional goals! In addition, we've seen an increase in the number of professionals retiring from the field, primarily hearing aid dispensers are retiring and I think the actual number of providers is not significantly higher than it was five years ago, if at all. So, one thing we can do to better penetrate the market, and to better reach the consumers, is to have more highly skilled professionals seeing patients.

AO/Beck: Is there something professionals do that drives you crazy? Something that whenever you see it - you just wish they would stop doing it because it's not helping anything?

Jones: Absolutely. I wish they would stop fighting among themselves, particularly in public. The message we send out as a profession and as an industry is very important, and it is easily damaged. We need to be cautious about the messages sent. Using public forums to attack hearing health care professionals and national groups is not useful.

AO/Beck: That's an excellent point. Any ideas on how the national groups might proceed, to get past and solve the issues?

Jones: They ought to go into a conference room, lock the door, and not come out until they agree on mutually beneficial goals! But in reality, turf battles in medical and related fields are very common. I think that if you're going to have legislative priorities, you have to have agreement among the profession -- before you seek legislation. I think that's an issue today. Ethics clearly are another big issue and I think it's a good and an important issue. However, I think the whole idea of enforcement has to occur at the practice level, not at the organizational level. You can make all the rules you want but the members have to buy into it, and in fact, have to live it, so they need to have a voice in it too. But one last issue related to ethics is that you have a great number of mixed practices, meaning they have audiologists and hearing aid dispensers as well as ENT doctors. And you could potentially have one set of professional ethics that may not coincide with the others. So, best intentions are one thing, but ethics are always quite complicated, and everyone usually wants their own ethics to prevail!

AO/Beck: Of course, ethical issues and situations are not just being addressed in hearing health care. I read in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago about the federal government warning US pharmaceutical makers about illegal sales practices. The article addressed many of the techniques they use to sell drugs, and by doing so, they run a high risk of violating federal fraud and abuse laws. In essence, they need to not offer financial incentives to doctors, hospitals, insurers, or pharmacists to encourage or reward the prescription or use of particular drugs.

Jones: Obviously the biggest hammer the federal government has over pharmacy issues is that Medicare pays for it in a large part, and they have influence.

AO/Beck: Do you anticipate that Medicare will provide hearing aids in the next 3-5 years? Does that seem at all likely?

Jones: No, not with the current budget deficits and the priority is clearly prescription drug benefits.

AO/Beck: Mike, what are your recommendations for marketing private practices? Should professionals be focusing on unique and innovative products, or should they focus on the practice itself?

Jones: I believe they have to do both. The idea of telling people what is new, better, and different is fundamental to marketing, particularly before your competitor does! But, I would also say anybody that becomes a hardware hocker just depreciates what we're really doing and where the real value is generated. After all, two-thirds of the price is service.

AO/Beck: Do you have any particular thoughts on internet hearing aid sales, as far as retail sales to consumers through retail-based internet sites?

Jones: If they're doing this package delivery scheme, I think the buyer needs to be aware, because they will not get what they pay for. I do believe that hearing loss is a medical problem and it requires a professional solution. The first step is to see a professional and then go through the appropriate steps.

AO/Beck: Mike, looking into your crystal ball....Can you tell us what's upcoming over the next 3 to 5 years?

Jones: If you believe technology has moved forward in the last five years, the next five years will make it look like we're currently standing still. At Unitron Hearing, we really focus on solving every day problems. Things like hearing in background noise, sound quality, using the telephone, riding in cars, acoustic feedback, those are our priorities. And importantly, I think wireless, and FM in particular, has a big role to play. We've talked about this before, but I think the day will come when in some situations, hearing impaired people using appropriate technology will hear better than normal hearing people without technology.

AO/Beck: Mike, I really appreciate your time and energy. Before I let you run, can you just give me the toll free phone number for Unitron Hearing and your website address?

Jones: Sure, in the USA, the toll free number is 1-800-888-8882. In Canada it's 1-800-265-8255. Our corporate website is https://www.unitronhearing.com.

AO/Beck: Thanks Mike, it's been pleasure.

Jones: Thank you too Doug.

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Mike Jones

President and CEO, Unitron Hearing



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