We are living in the age of technology-driven disruption. One by one, we’ve seen countless industries completely up-ended by disruption, from travel, to banking and finance to entertainment. While the ramifications of each disruption can be unpredictable, there is a certain amount of democratization that inevitably follows each disruption wave. More people gain access to products or services that were previously cost-prohibitive or otherwise inaccessible for a variety of reasons. And better user experiences and smart data-centric platforms enter the playing field. Isn’t it time that the same thing happened for the hearing aid industry?
Signs that the industry is primed for disruption
When it comes to predicting the next great disruption, there is no shortage of models and theories. However, market analysts often cite two signs that are relevant for this discussion:
1. Products and services aren’t available to the general population
2. Inconvenience is at an all-time high.
Consider the first sign, a lack of general availability. There are currently 500 million people suffering from disabling hearing loss worldwide. Approximately 400 million of them do not have access to a quality solution for their hearing loss. In fact, there are only 45 million hearing aids currently in use globally. Clearly, we could be doing more to get hearing aids into the hands (and ears) of those who need them.
The second sign is inconvenience. In India, there is only one audiologist for every 500,000 inhabitants. Audiologists are often located in major urban cities, meaning that people located in rural areas have to spend a great amount of time and money to access these services. When you look at other emerging economies around the world, you see a similar picture. So, there are significant portions of the intended population who do not have convenient, affordable access to high-quality hearing aids.
The disruption we need
When these factors reach a tipping point, an opening is created for a new player to enter the market. The player usually challenges existing, often outdated, business and go-to-market models, enabling consumers direct access to a particular product or service. Sometimes the resulting technology starts off as a platform or marketplace bringing parties together, like Airbnb or Amazon. Other times, the technology is the disruption, empowering consumers in a way previously unimaginable, often from the bottom and up. It’s this latter form of technological disruption that’s needed in the hearing industry.
Putting a hearing clinic in the palm of your hand
We’ve established that the current model is insufficient. We believe that our unique, self-fitting technology is the disruption that the industry needs. It addresses the problem of availability: For those living in areas where accessing an audiologist is either impractical or cost-prohibitive, they can use our hearing aid to perform their own hearing test and define the hearing profile for each ear. By using the hearing aid on its own, or via the smartphone application, users can fine-tune their device to meet their own unique circumstances and surroundings. It’s like having a hearing clinic in the palm of your hand.
When you think about it, so much of the hearing aid fine-tuning process is already user-driven. Only the wearer knows how it feels and sounds. Only the user knows what kinds of environments they find themselves in on a daily basis. By giving them the power to adjust their own device, we not only save them time and money, we might actually increase the rate of user adoption.
Making hearing affordable
Another aspect of democratization is making the disrupted product or service more affordable for average members of the public. While we would never assume that technology can replace the role of the audiologist, we also have to acknowledge the fact that for many, especially in countries without public health systems, accessing an audiologist is a luxury many cannot afford. It becomes a vicious cycle. People suffering with disabling hearing loss are often shut out of the job market, or only able to hold down the lowest-paying jobs, which means they’re unable to afford the hearing aid that might help improve their employment prospects.
By creating an over-the-counter product that is self-fitting, we remove a great deal of the cost associated with a hearing aid. And the technology is mature enough to where we don’t have to compromise on quality to create a hearing aid that is affordable and accessible for everyone.
Removing the stigma by design
Then, there’s the stigma. The disparity between the number of hearing aids used and the number of people with disabling hearing loss is not only a result of accessibility and price. It also has a lot to do with the stigma surrounding hearing aid use. This has a lot to do with perception. Somehow, eyeglasses have become a fashion statement, but hearing aids continue to be associated with illness – you’re a patient in need of treatment. In many parts of the world, this stigma is so great that parents actually avoid getting treatment for their children’s hearing loss. Isn’t it time we stopped calling people with hearing loss “patients”?
Our self-fitting hearing aid is designed to look like a smartphone headset, which we hope will go a long way in helping users to feel comfortable wearing it in public. And there’s no reason why people should view the hearing aid any differently than they do any other device. In fact, using our smartphone app, users can listen to music, or their favorite show, through the same headset that they use to compensate for their hearing loss.
Disruption is about making things that once were difficult or complicated, simpler and easier by rethinking the fundamentals. The time has now come for the same thing to happen with hearing aids. Join us on this journey.