Signia have just introduced a new platform segment for emerging markets called Lotus. The hearing aids are designed to be fitted by people who may not necessarily have had training as Audiologists. In fact, they say that after a half hour training anyone should be able to fit the devices.
I want to be very clear, these aren't OTC hearing aids, they are a solution for areas of the world where hearing care is difficult to access at best. Up to 90 percent of all hearing impaired people in many African, Asian and South American countries have no access to hearing aids. Signia developed the new product segment Lotus for these markets. However, it got me thinking (wife says that is never a good thing).
In essence, this hearing aid technology could be easily adopted for Over The Counter use. Basically if anyone can fit them after a half hour training session, that means you can too right? I would have to say yes.
Why Would Signia Do It First?
While Siemens Hearing Aids have been around for a very long time, Sivantos (the company who bought them) really have no hearing industry legacy. This has made them a very interesting company for me to watch. They have consistently brought out technology features that have a very different feel from the other hearing aid manufacturers. For instance, their tele-health solution which I spoke about in the article Sivantos Introduces Groundbreaking Hearing Aid Telehealth App.
In essence the app allows remote fine tuning and even remote fitting of hearing aids that have been provided by a professional who uses the system. It means that Patients don't need to attend their Professional's Practice for help. I mean it is a pretty ground breaking use of technology. No other hearing aid brand has done it.
I think that within other hearing aid brands there may have been some fear around introducing this type of tech. Fear of the reactions of Providers, Sivantos just seemed to think this is a great idea, let's do it. Like I said, I think their lack of legacy is a good thing, they make decisions based on what will be good for users and Providers, not necessarily on how will providers react to this? I personally think that is a good way to do things.
In essence Sivantos have done pretty exceptional things with Siemens hearing aids since they took over. In the recent past, I have always felt that they are constantly on the cutting edge.
OTC, Good or Bad?
Listen, I don't know whether OTC will be good or bad, I think that if there is involvement of traditional manufacturers in the OTC world, it might not be bad. I think I might be one of a small few Professionals that thinks like that though. I said in Are Over The Counter Hearing Aids The Answer, What Can The Consumer Expect? :
"I have talked to others within the business for some time about adopting low cost devices that were sold on an over the counter type basis. I would adopt these types of devices, I would insist that I did a work up on your hearing or you had a workup done by someone I trust (this is to protect both you and me). I would then sell you the device for you to do with it what you wanted. If you wanted support or help other than warranty issue I would charge you for it. I think that is fair, my time is worth money, you would not expect to attend any other professional for consultation for free, so why would you expect to do so with me? I think that this may well be the future model, I don't think the traditional model will die quite yet, I think this new model will probably run in tandem with the traditional model."
So I don't see OTC hearing aids as a threat to my livelihood, in fact I believe that they may well help me deliver better hearing to more people. It also may encourage more people to test out amplification, which has to be a good thing for everyone.
So will Signia do it, I don't know, I have not got a clue, nevertheless it is an interesting question. If in fact OTC hearing aids become legal in the States, I think of all of the hearing aid brands, perhaps Signia is the only one who might do it first.