I spent two days in Amsterdam last week with Unitron learning about their new Flex Experience Concept and their new Discover Hearing Aids. In the near future, I will undertake a review of the Discover hearing aids, in this article, I want to focus on the Flex Experience and why it might matter to you, the consumer. The main message from Unitron during the conference was that today's consumer experience with the purchasing of hearing aids is ready for disruption. Both Steve and I would agree with that sentiment and have been saying just that for a number of years. Unitron believes that their new Flex Experience concept which is supported by their Flex eco-system of technology can meet the needs of modern consumers. I think they are onto something with that. Let's talk about the Flex Experience and the Flex technology that supports it. This will be a long one, but worth it, so strap yourself in.
It is clear to me that modern hearing aid consumers (that's you) are better educated about the process and the hearing devices available. They are constantly researching devices and processes and people like myself and Steve work hard to ensure that there is balanced, plain speaking information out there for them. The Hearing Aid Know site has received 451,000 visitors from the North Americas and 127,000 visitors from the UK so far this year. That is over half a million people from two of the biggest markets in the world.
They are on the site to research devices, hearing loss and providers and the processes that should happen. The modern hearing device consumer is hungry for information and they are now reasonably well informed. This fact alone makes consumers dramatically different animals from the consumers of five or ten years ago. More than that, modern consumers want a different approach to healthcare purchases than those who have gone before.
While the focus has been on the price of hearing care mostly, it is also clear to me that modern healthcare consumers appear to want a more collaborative approach to their healthcare decisions. While they still trust their professionals, they want them to act as a guide to a well-educated decision, rather than someone who simply tells them what to do, what to use, or what to take. While this has been most noticeable in the wider healthcare world, it is also true within hearing aids. I know that price is an issue, however, price is an issue mostly when consumers don't understand the value, nor trust the process.
The Current Hearing Aid Purchase Process
The current hearing aid purchase process is not collaborative even though professionals try to make it so. We test you, we try to understand your needs, then we make recommendations based on our findings. You then make a choice on those recommendations, but there is little hard data to support your decision on the hearing aids you buy. Your decision more often than not is based on blind faith in the abilities we describe.
More often than not, our recommendations are based on blind faith in the fact that you have given us all the relevant information about your lifestyle and needs. There really has to be a better way where we understand all of your needs and you make the hard decisions based on real-world data. That would be a more collaborative approach. One where we work together to make decisions about your care based on your real-world experiences. For me, that's personalised hearing care.
The Flex Experience
With the Flex Experience model, Unitron offers a process and the technology tools needed to deliver a collaborative process. They also provide the hard real-world data to both you and your professional so that you can make educated choices about what you need. It is not an onerous experience, nor is it an experience that really lengthens the process. Here is how it's done:
- Go through the testing process with your professional as usual
- After the testing process is finished, you are fitted with a set of Flex hearing aids immediately for diagnostic purposes
- Wear the Flex hearing aids for a period of time, all the while using the Patient Rating app to score your experience in real time
- Return to your professional after the diagnostic period and he reads out the real world data from the devices and your ratings
- Make a decision on the hearing aids you need based on the real world data that has been gathered, all the while knowing that you can upgrade the technology easily if you have been conservative
- Live happily ever after! Well, happy with your hearing anyway, everything else is on you hahahahah
The Hard Data
The beauty of this process is that you live your life for a couple of days as usual and gather hard data about your life experiences and therefore your needs while doing so. Using the Patient Rating system allows you to grade your experience in different situations as you go. It is real-world hard data, not fuzzy maybes or kind ofs. You then return at the end of the period to your professional and view the data and make the decisions. I think hard data is a beautiful thing, you probably should too, because it is the ideal base for you to make decisions on the hearing aids you want. Let's talk about the technology that makes it possible.
Unitron has had Flex Trial hearing instruments for a long time, the devices can be set to any level of Unitron hearing aid technology by the hearing care professional. They were first introduced in order that users could experience the level of hearing aid technology that they were interested in buying. The devices allow you to try the latest technology in the real world.
You can form your own opinions while experiencing the benefits in the places where you spend time every day. The devices are now used in a more diagnostic way with the new Flex Experience concept. They still allow you to experience the level of technology, but they will also help to gather that hard data that is needed for you to make good decisions over the period of time that you wear them.
Log It All
Log It All is a system that captures the real-time data and then allows it to be displayed on the professional's system. Log It All adds the context need from the environments that you actually spend time in. It provides data around your listening lifestyle based on real-world experience. It gives an accurate picture of your lifestyle needs. This is a key part of the data you need to make an educated decision about the hearing aids you need.
Patient Ratings allows you to share how you feel about the hearing instrument performance during your diagnostic period. You use it to give your feedback, right at the moment, using an app on their smartphone. The information is sent back to the professional and both you and the professional can view everything in the office when you attend at the end of the period.
I love this system, it allows you to give your own feedback on how well you are doing. It also registers what sound settings the hearing aids are in and allows you to detail the situation and add comments. It then sends that information to the professional’s software, allowing them to see exactly what is going on with you.
The benefits are clear for me, you are more involved in the process. For the professional, it is reliable feedback in relation to how well you are doing. This system is a little bittersweet for Steve, he designed a hugely similar system called Ear Meter several years ago but it was before its time.
Flex Upgrade is a system that Unitron has designed to allow the upgrade of the technology level in existing hearing aids. This ensures that a professional can meet your changing needs by upgrading technology levels in your current hearing instruments at any time.
It also allows you the confidence to make a decision about a particular level of hearing aid technology all the while knowing that you can upgrade if you need to.
Personalised Hearing Care
I think this process represents a truly more personalised level of hearing care. Unitron has considered the process, focused on the consumer and innovated an entirely new way to deliver a hearing care experience. I would be interested in your thoughts on this one, I would certainly like to know if this type of experience would be attractive for you as a consumer. Let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org