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Interview with Thomas Powers, Ph.D., Vice President of Audiology & Compliance- Siemens Hearing Instruments, Inc.

Thomas A. Powers, PhD

November 3, 2008
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Topic: Wireless Connectivity and New Siemens Products: Motion™, Life
Carolyn Smaka: This is Carolyn Smaka from AudiologyOnline. Today I'm speaking with Dr. Thomas Powers from Siemens Hearing Instruments, Inc. Tom, welcome back to AudiologyOnline.

Dr. Thomas Powers: Thank you, Carolyn. It is always a pleasure to meet with you and talk with AudiologyOnline.

SMAKA: Tom, I think most people know you within our industry but can you please tell us about role at Siemens?

POWERS: Sure. Currently I am the Vice President of Audiology and Compliance. I also manage our Training Department, and am responsible for training both customers as well as our internal staff.

I work closely with the product management group on the clinical trials of new products, as well as on product introductions. Those are some of the hats that I'm wearing here at Siemens.

SMAKA: That's a lot of hats! We're going to talk about some exciting new products that Siemens is launching with wireless connectivity. Why is wireless connectivity important to consumers today?

POWERS: I think what we are beginning to finally see are hearing aids truly becoming communication devices for hearing impaired individuals. To me, this is as exciting an advancement as when digital hearing aids were first introduced a number of years ago.

Wireless connectivity has been in development for a long time. Since digital hearing instruments were introduced, the next milestone or revolution in technology is wireless connectivity: for these hearing aids to interact with the other devices that hearing impaired individuals use such as cell phones, televisions, and MP3 players. And the interaction is such that people don't have to remove their hearing instruments to use these devices.

Connectivity has become an important issue as we see hearing instrument wearers getting younger. This is evident in some of the MarkeTrak data from Sergei Kochkin.

As we continue to introduce new hearing instruments, one of the things we want to ensure is that we not only connect with the devices available today, but also look to the future to other types of communication devices that may need to connect with hearing instruments. It's important that we are committed to expanding the list of devices that hearing instruments can talk to, so to speak.

SMAKA: You mentioned that connectivity is important for the growing younger population of hearing instrument wearers. Are you also seeing the need for connectivity in the senior segment?

POWERS: Absolutely. For a while the largest growing segment of new purchasers of computers was people over age 55. I think seniors are adapting to all areas of technology in general more than ever before. For example, they are all using cell phones now.

My parents, who are now in their early 80s, got their first cell phone a year ago. Another example is the MP3 player, you see seniors out taking walks now and wearing their MP3 players.

We are seeing all age groups across the board using various types of technology, whether it's a cell phone or an MP3 player or whatever that might be. To be able to connect hearing instruments to these devices, and to be able to do it easily and seamlessly, is the real challenge.

SMAKA: And how is Siemens accomplishing this challenge?

POWERS: We have accomplished connectivity with the Tek™ system. We are also introducing two new product families - our new Life products and Motion ith connectivity.

SMAKA: Tell me about the new Life products.



POWERS: The Life products are very small, open fit BTEs, and this segment is obviously one that is growing. This new series is a grouping of products with a variety of feature sets that the provider would choose depending on the requirements of each patient. There are three new products in the Life family: Life 700, Life 500 and Life 300.

Each instrument in this series incorporates what you would expect of advanced digital processing today: an excellent, new feedback reduction system;adaptive directional microphones;and a speech and noise management system. These have become standard features in most hearing instruments today. In addition, the Life 700 and 500 are compatible with the Tek system. The Life 300, which is not Tek compatible, is an entry level product for people who do not desire wireless connectivity.

In addition, these products feature learning. There are different learning characteristics in each of the three new Life products, depending on the lifestyle and the complexity of the environments that the patient finds himself in.

As you know, in our earlier products we introduced DataLearning®, where the hearing instruments learn the wearer's preferred volume control settings. We have now expanded the learning behavior to SoundLearning™. Based on the input to the hearing instruments and the adjustments that the patient makes, the instruments will automatically adjust the compression and treble characteristics over time.

This is the next step in "smart" hearing instruments - they are hearing instruments that learn. And this feature makes the hearing instruments interactive, in that they are zeroing in on those exact characteristics that the patient needs.

Life, of course, fulfills those segments of the market where you may find more new patients coming in with high frequency loss or those looking for discrete instruments.

Life also has some interesting color combinations and case designs. We are trying to look at style, much like we did with Vibe®, and make them as stylish as hearing instruments can be.

SMAKA: You mentioned "smart" hearing instruments. When we talked about smart hearing instruments just a few years ago we were referring to WDRC. I don't think I would have ever been able to envision hearing instruments that could actually learn the specific patient preferences for compression and treble characteristics.

POWERS: Harvey Dillon published an article several years ago where he talked about these kinds of features (Dillon et al., 2006). It really is an evolution. It all started with data logging. First, we needed to capture the information. Then, we found a way for the instrument to learn the patient's preferred volume settings. And now we have expanded that and we are now seeing not only volume control but compression and, to some degree, treble or high frequency characteristics of the hearing instrument being able to be adjusted on the fly while the patient is wearing their hearing instruments.

It is a huge benefit for both patients and those fitting the hearing instruments. For those patients who are really interested in participating in the fitting process, it is a big leap forward in terms of the data available to make fitting and programming decisions. Professionals can see, indirectly, the environments that the patient is in, how the patient reacted to those environments and what the patient thought was the appropriate settings for those environments.

And the professional can make informed counseling decisions with that patient. Not only does it help achieve the final programming adjustments more quickly, but it also gives the patient and the professional a chance to really discuss what is going on with the hearing instruments and what the patient feels is best.

And for patients who aren't interested or can't participate in the fitting process, that's okay. The professional still has the logged data available and can use it to make decisions about the fitting.

We are excited about having data logging, DataLearning, and SoundLearning available in these new hearing instruments, as applicable to each technology level. For us, it is an exciting new group of products.

SMAKA: Can you tell us about the new Motion line?

POWERS: Yes. Although the RIC and open BTE segment is growing by leaps and bounds, we still have to take care of the other segment of the market, which is custom products and more standard BTE models.

Motion is more of what I call the "classic" configuration. With Motion, we have taken the approach of introducing a fuller product line. There are, for a variety of reasons, patients who still really need or want to wear classic custom products. There are three BTE models, including two Motion P, or Power, BTEs, in addition to a complete line of custom products. Motion P BTEs offer 70 dB peak gain and 130 dB peak output, and two smaller BTE instruments with 55 dB of gain for more moderate type losses.

They are also available in two levels of technology: Motion 700 and Motion 500. The feature set is commensurate with the level of technology, which can be selected depending on the patient requirements. These are also Tek compatible and provide all the connectivity that anyone would want.

We now have e2e wireless® 2.0, our second generation of ear-to-ear wireless to allow communication between two devices that now also incorporates Bluetooth® wireless technology connectivity.

Another main feature is that the Motion BTE line is fully rechargeable. We are seeing a much greater interest in rechargeability for a variety of reasons. Obviously, rechargeability is good for the environment and it's very convenient for wearers. You simply put the hearing instruments in the charger, and you don't have to worry about them. You get up in the morning, take your hearing instruments out of the charger, put them on, and you're good to go. You don't have to carry batteries around. We know batteries have been an issue for some people. They don't recognize that hearing instrument batteries don't last a year like watch batteries. You can simplify the process of wearing hearing instruments by taking care of the battery issue and just telling patients to put their hearing instruments in the charger each night.

As you can tell, we are pretty excited about these products.

SMAKA: You mentioned that Motion includes a full line of custom instruments. So that means even with the CIC, you can have wireless connectivity with Tek?



POWERS: Absolutely. Motion takes into account those patients who have already been wearing amplification, in terms of what their lifestyle might be and their views on technology. Patients who have already been wearing a particular style, like an ITE or CIC, may be reluctant to switch to another style to get wireless connectivity. So now, with Motion, they can finally have that wireless connectivity with a CIC instrument, or any custom instrument. We are the only manufacturer that offers a completely-in-the-canal instrument with e2e wireless 2.0, as well as wireless connectivity.

So, it really is something for everybody in terms of both Motion and Life and wireless connectivity.

SMAKA: Tom, for professionals who maybe have not gotten on board yet with the wireless connectivity, can you give a couple of examples of practical applications? For example, let's say I have a patient who wears Motion ITCs and wants to use Tek.

POWERS: We would start, obviously, at the initial fitting, and determine which devices the patient would want to use with the Motion ITCs.

Let's say, for example, the patient wants to connect to his cell phone and his home TV.

The professional would connect the Tek Connect remote to the PC and program it, much like you would program the hearing instruments. The professional would select particular memories for access to the TV and cell phone. Then the professional would pair Tek with the cell phone, just a traditional Bluetooth pairing that we're all familiar with.

The patient could have the Tek Connect remote sitting in a pocket, worn around the neck, or on a table. When the cell phone rings, they would push the answer button on Tek, which would then stream the cell phone signal to both hearing instruments.

The microphone of the Tek Connect remote acts as the microphone during the call, so the patient can position it on the desk if he is in the office, for example.

When finished, he simply waits for the caller to hang up or pushes the button on Tek Connect remote and automatically goes back to listening to the previous program via the hearing instruments. It is all very seamless in that regard.

To use the previous program with the TV, the Tek system kit includes the Tek Transmitter and cable for connecting the transmitter to the TV. The patient simply hooks one end of the cable into the transmitter and the other end into the TV. He selects the program for TV listening on the Tek Connect remote, and now the TV is streamed to his hearing instruments. And the TV can be set at a normal volume level, so the spouse or whomever he is watching TV with, would hear it at their desired level.

The interesting part about Tek is that it streams in stereo, with virtually no delay. We also have incorporated Tek Transmitter Bluetooth technology that eliminates the delay that normally occurs with Bluetooth systems.

Why is that important? Imagine, for a second, watching a TV show with an audio delay of over 100 milliseconds. It would be much like watching a foreign language film in that you wouldn't be able to really tell what is going on. It is especially important that the audio signal and visuals are in sync for hearing impaired individuals who are trying to lip read. People with hearing impairment often don't know how much lip reading they actually do, until they can't do it. When you are trying to watch a movie and there is a delay present, it really creates some problems. Our engineering group went through extra effort to create this system so that we would virtually eliminate this delay.

SMAKA: In this example, what if his cell phone rang while he was watching TV?

POWERS: So let's assume he is watching his favorite movie and his cell phone rings. Since the cell phone has already been paired with Tek Connect remote, he's going to hear in his hearing instruments that his cell phone is ringing. He can elect to answer the call simply by pressing a button on Tek Connect, and the call is now routed to his hearing instruments. He can tell the caller, "Listen, I am in the middle of my movie. I will call you back." Then, when he hangs up the call, it automatically goes back to streaming the TV movie that he is watching.

It is a very easy and seamless process. After the audiologist or hearing care provider programs Tek, once the cell phone is paired, Tek Connect easily connect to the phone.

Once you set up the Tek Transmitter with the TV, it just works. The small transmitter and Tek Connect remote come pre paired so the transmitter just needs to be connected to the TV. It's that simple.

SMAKA: It enables people to not have to think about all the technology and just think about enjoying their lives.

POWERS: Yes, exactly. There's an interesting anecdote that comes mind when you put it that way.

There is one person we know who is using Tek and is a salesperson. What he's done is turned his Tek system into a Bluetooth headset while he's traveling in the car. He's actually taken Tek Connect remote and hooked it up on the visor of his car.

When a call comes into his cell phone he justs pushes a button on Tek Connect remote to answer the phone. He talks normally, and the microphone on Tek (which is clipped on his visor) picks up his voice, and the cell phone call is streamed to his hearing instruments in stereo. When he's done, he pushes a button on Tek Connect remote to hang up.

He claims it is a whole lot better than trying to use his car's Bluetooth system, because his car speakers aren't that great and the car noise is reduced when he's using the Tek system with his hearing instruments.

We are starting to get interesting stories and anecdotes from patients who have found their own unique ways of using this technology.

SMAKA: Tom, please tell us about Siemens new remote control offerings.

POWERS: We have introduced some new remote controls in addition to Tek which, of course, provide Bluetooth streaming.

We also have a new ePen™ that will be available later this year which is a very slim and stylish remote control.

Again, our new technology is not only about allowing wireless connectivity, but also providing technology for features of the hearing instrument system, with simplified remote controls that are easy to use and carry. The ePen is about the size of a thick pen and easy to slip in your pocket or purse and still have available.

SMAKA: Tom, I want to go back to something you said earlier about making hearing instruments as stylish as they can be. Can you expand on that?



POWERS: Sure. We are pushing the envelope with cosmetics. With Life, patients can choose their case color and have it changed in the professional's office. Now, not everybody is going to want to do that. But it's really great for those patients that think, "I would really like to have these in black, or, I know I wanted beige when I first started wearing these, but now I've changed my mind. I think this is cool to wear these hearing instruments, so now I'd like to go with purple cases," or whatever the decision might be.

SMAKA: Exactly. You go in for your six-month check, and leave with a new, fresh color.
It sounds like Siemens has it covered from wireless connectivity to style to convenience. Really lots of benefits for wearers.

POWERS: Of course, these new products all have great signal processing, too. It starts there, obviously. It starts with a sophisticated algorithm, a third generation of feedback management, speech and noise management, and all of the necessary signal processing features. Both Motion and Life are using our latest generation of digital chip, so they are based on a totally new platform. While we have different levels of technology, we have redone our chip set entirely. It's our sixth generation digital product, and we're really very excited to bring this to the market.

SMAKA: Tom, it is always a pleasure to speak with you and to hear all about the exciting innovations coming from Siemens.

POWERS: Great. Thanks for your time, and have a good day, Carolyn.

Further information can be found by visiting www.usa.siemens.com/hearing or the Siemens Web Channel on AudiologyOnline.

References

Dillon K, Zakis JA, McDermott H, Keidser G, Dreschler W, Convery E. (2006). The trainable hearing aid: What will it do for clients and clinicians? Hear Jour, 59(4):30-36.

The Bluetooth® word mark and logos are owned by the Bluetooth SIG, Inc. and any use of such marks by Siemens AG is under license. Other trademarks and trade names are those of their respective owners.
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thomas a powers

Thomas A. Powers, PhD

Thomas A. Powers, Ph.D., is the Managing Member of Powers Consulting, providing management consulting to the hearing health industry.   Dr. Powers serves an expert audiology consultant for the Hearing Industries Association, and as a Consultant for Sivantos, Inc.   Dr. Powers received his B.S. from the State University of New York at Geneseo, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Audiology and Speech Science from Ohio University.  He began his career as a partner in an Audiology private practice and has over 35 years of experience in the hearing health care industry.   Prior to his current role, he was Vice-President, Government Services and Professional Relations for Sivantos, Inc.



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