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Rechargeable Hearing Aid Survey


Consumers are warming up to the idea of using rechargeable hearing aid batteries in place of the disposable zinc-air batteries required by most modern hearing devices. According to a recent Hearing Tracker survey, new rechargeable technologies – that provide longer battery life in smaller packages – are leading many hearing aid consumers to consider making the switch.

Hearing Tracker conducted the 600+ participant survey of consumers and hearing health professionals after two industry leaders, Phonak and Signia, each announced upcoming hearing aid models with built-in rechargeable batteries. Their announcements followed closely after the introduction of a retrofit rechargeable hearing aid battery product, ZPower, that is compatible with several popular models of typically non-rechargeable hearing aids. All the new products provide more than a day of use before recharging is required—clearing a battery-life hurdle that until now has held back many buyers from considering rechargeable technologies.

Disclosure: ZPower helped fund our survey with the goal of better understanding what features are most important to hearing aid users and how they would use rechargeable battery technologies. But Hearing Tracker conducted the blind survey independently and is publishing the results in its own independent report. This blog post provides an initial summary overview of the findings.

Rechargeable hearing aid batteries have been available for a long time.  So why haven’t they caught on with consumers until now? In the past, there have been problems with short battery life, limiting form factors, and inconsistent power output. Our survey, the first to provide comprehensive data on what features are important and why, provides timely perspective for consumers and hearing healthcare providers considering adoption of rechargeable hearing aid technologies.

Survey Results

Of the 510 hearing-aid owners who responded to the survey, 89% said their aids use non-rechargeable disposable batteries. But 70% said they would prefer rechargeable hearing aids, with 62% preferring hearing aids that could use either removable rechargeable batteries or standard non-rechargeable disposable batteries, and 8% indicating preference for rechargeable-only hearing aids:

Consumer preferences for rechargeable hearing aids

Which type of battery would you prefer for your hearing aids?

which-type-of-battery

However, users made it clear they also need their rechargeable hearing aids to meet the one-day-per-charge test. When asked to rate on a scale of one-to-five the importance of a “full day of power on a single charge,” the average response was near the top at 4.72:

Full day of power on a single charge

full-day-of-power

“Audiologists and other hearing health professionals have understood the benefits of rechargeable technologies for a long time, but they have been waiting for technology to catch up with the needs of users demanding longer battery life in smaller form factors,” said Abram Bailey, AuD, founder of Hearing Tracker. “Our survey data confirms users prefer rechargeable options and provides an optimistic outlook for acceptance of the new rechargeable hearing aid products that are finally starting to meet those threshold requirements.”

The new products coming to market utilize different technologies to deliver the performance customers want.

zpower-small

ZPower Battery

ZPower offers a retrofit rechargeable solution for many existing hearing aid models. The standard battery compartment on your existing hearing aids is replaced with a chargeable compartment, and sold with rechargeable silver-zinc batteries and a charger unit. ZPower is compatible with hearing aids from brands like Siemens, Phonak, Resound, and Beltone. See the full compatibility list.

Phonak B-R

Phonak Audéo B-R

Phonak recently announced the upcoming (August 2016) release of the Audéo B-R, touted as “the first mainstream lithium-ion rechargeable hearing aid.” Phonak claims the new Audéo B-R will last 24 hours on full charge, including up to 80 minutes of wireless streaming. The new product is built on “Belong,” the newest processing platform from Phonak. Phonak mini charger shown.

signia-cellion-primax

Signia Cellion primax

Also due for release later this month, the Cellion primax is billed as “the only inductive, wireless and contact-free chargeable hearing aid in the world.” Apparently one-upping Phonak on operating time, Cellion primax claims it can run for “at least 24 hours with unlimited streaming.” Both the Audeo B-R and the Cellion primax have sealed battery doors.

Hearing aid providers are clearly on the same wavelength as their patients. Of the audiologists and other hearing health professionals who completed the survey, fewer than half (47%) said they currently fit rechargeable hearing aids, but 82% said they plan on selling new rechargeable products in the future.

Providers who currently sell and plan to sell rechargeable hearing aids

The hearing aid providers also indicated they would like to see broad availability of rechargeable solutions. When asked to rate on a scale of one-to-five the importance of availability “across multiple platforms, both in technology and in price, the average response was near the top at 4.50:

Available across multiple platforms, both in technology and in price

available-across-multiple-platforms

Both providers and consumers indicated a strong preference for backup solutions enabling constant use of the hearing aids, without downtime for recharging during the day. Therefore, long battery life was a requirement for both groups, with a majority of providers indicating that, when the rechargeable battery loses power, they prefer the ability to use a disposable battery to get power instantly rather than a hearing aid with a built-in rechargeable battery, even one with a fast 30-minute charge:

Which option do you think your patients would prefer to regain power, if their rechargeable hearing aids lost power at an inconvenient time?

disposable-option

Consumers also made it clear in their comments they are ready for those and other features of rechargeable hearing aid batteries:

It’s easier to carry a couple of disposable batteries than a charger.

I don’t know if I would have 30 minutes to spare for a recharge in an emergency situation.

I would like to be served with options. In case of failure of the rechargeable battery I want to have the option to use the disposable batteries. I use hearing aids all the time and I prefer to always have a back plan.

I don’t have time to wait around for the battery to recharge. Especially at work.

No one wants to put their life on hold for any length of time so a battery can charge

And for hearing-aid providers, perhaps the best news came from the response to the question: “If you could purchase a system to make your current hearing aids rechargeable, which of the following suppliers would you prefer?”  The answer from 61% of consumers? “Your hearing health provider.”

where-to-buy-rechargeable-hearing-aids

Clearly, the time is right for broader and faster acceptance of rechargeable hearing aid technologies. We are continuing to analyze the results from Hearing Tracker survey on rechargeable hearing aid battery technologies, so watch this space for more news and insight.

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  • fili46buster

    I took this survey with interest. Since then I have learned that, apparently, ZPower is proprietary to independent audiologists if they sign up. There is no mention on its website of pricing to consumers (or even to audiologists). As a user, I would seriously consider getting my instruments retrofitted, but i bought them from Costco, and I have no idea if they would want—or would be allowed—to dispense ZPower battery systems. Depending on price, I’d be very interested. I suppose switching out the battery doors myself would probably void the warranty on the hearing aids. My point is that, despite our hopes of gaining widespread access to rechargeable devices in the near future, it seems the survey was mostly a marketing tool for ZPower and perhaps the two hearing aid companies that make their own devices. Seems like it will take awhile to filter down to consumers, and they will likely pay quite a premium for the privilege.

    • Thank you for taking the survey, and for taking the time to post this comment. I don’t know whether your Costco-purchased hearing aids may be retrofitted with ZPower’s solution. I think it would largely depend on whether your practitioner has opted into their program, and whether the form factor of the device is identical to the form factor of one of the devices listed on ZPower’s compatibility list. Regarding your other point, your warranty cannot be voided so long as a licensed practitioner retrofits your aids. I would double check with the hearing aid manufacturer of your devices before attempting to retrofit them yourself. I suspect the process is relatively DIY for someone with good vision and dexterity. I haven’t actually retrofitted any devices myself so I’m speculating, and I am definitely not suggesting anyone take it into their own hands!

      I want to be clear that Phonak and Signia were not involved in this survey. We were tasked by ZPower to administer the survey to help them to collect reliable/unbaised information through our consumer and provider consumer. Think of the survey more as an internet-based focus group, wherein a company has hired Hearing Tracker to vet its product/approach. The only difference here is that we requested to share the results. The study design, analysis, and write-up is our own, and was done completely independently. Thanks again for your feedback!

      • fili46buster

        Thanks for your thoughtful and quick response. I think my instruments could be retrofitted: they are Kirkland Signature 6.0, made by Resound and based on the Linx technology. I see the Linx ZPower should be available in Fall 2016.

        Do you have any information regarding ZPower pricing to consumers?

        • The pricing to consumers is largely dependent on the price set by the local practitioner. I don’t know what the wholesale cost of ZPower is, but I do know that any audiologist (or hearing instrument dispenser) will need to charge for the time spent retrofitting the product, and training the patient on usage, etc. Most audiologists charge $100 or more per hour just to cover their time and overheads.

  • GN

    Thank you Hearing Tracker for doing the survey and presenting the results! And I’d have to say that the results are pretty much what I would have expected.

    I agree with fili46buster that it would be nice to have options for converting hearing aids to rechargeable other than via a “full service” professional where prices are likely to be high enough as to make the conversion questionable as to return on investment. Instead, based on the results of the survey, it seems likely that ZPower or some other company should seriously consider a simple device that can recharge no. 13 hearing aid batteries (possibly along with other sizes) by taking them out of the aids for charging while the aids themselves are resting in an over-night drying device.

    The combination charging and drying device that I’ve had with my Kirkland/Rexton (Siemens) aids from Costco has been a real convenience as the aids have the option of using regular no. 13 batteries also. So it’s good to see Phonak and Signia moving in this direction also.

    • Sarah Chipman

      A simple recharging device already exists: the PowerOne ACCUplus pocketcharger. The NiMH batteries that came with your Rexton (Siemens) hearing aid recharger are PowerOne rechargeable batteries. Here’s the info on the Pocketcharger: http://www.powerone-batteries.com/en/products/chargers/pocketcharger/ and it appears to sell from $80 to $100 on Amazon.com, plus I would recommend also purchasing a spare set of rechargeable PowerOne ACCUplus NiMH batteries for a bit over $30. This charger requires that the batteries be removed from the hearing aids to place them in the charger.

      The reason most hearing aids don’t use these rechargeable batteries is that the hearing aids require more power than the NiMH batteries can provide. Anyone is free to try them, but I suspect that hearing aids that tend to be picky about battery brands (like ReSound and some Phonak and some Starkey aids) would not operate consistently with these older technology rechargeable batteries.

      Disappointingly for me as a provider, the new Phonak and Signia hearing aids with Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries will not have conventional batteries as a swap-out option like your Rexton hearing aids do. They will be built-in and will be rechargeable-only. I suppose it helped with their water-resistance, and it may prevent a few batteries being jammed backwards or sideways into battery doors by someone with poor vision and/or dexterity (which I see a lot), but I would have preferred options for my patients like the Siemens/Rexton hearing aids offered.

  • Farst

    Hi David,
    Great article. Just wondering, are the ZPower already available for purchase? How long have they been on the market in the USA? Regardless of the price, do you think the retrofit of the ZPower kit, for say +/- 400 cycles, comes out cheaper than conventional hearing aid batteries for the same amount of time?
    Also, what about clients who get free batteries from their providers? Do you have data if they would also rather go for a rechargeable solution, despite their free batteries?
    Thank you!

    • Hi there! I’m not sure exactly how long ZPower been on the market, but I would guess about a year. If it’s something you’re interested in learning more about, I would suggest calling their 1800 number to find your closest provider.

      Regarding costs, I suspect you’d spend a similar amount of money on disposable batteries over time (assuming you shop intelligently for disposable batteries) as you would with ZPower. You might want to call around and get a couple quotes on ZPower before doing the math yourself though. I think the main reason for going to a solution like ZPower is convenience, with the added benefit of helping to reduce battery waste. Best of luck!