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Hearing aid patient at audiology conference

A Unique Opportunity

I was lucky to present recently at the American Academy of Audiology’s annual convention in Nashville held April 18-21, 2018. You can read about my presentation here. It was a fascinating experience to attend an audiology conference, not as an audiologist, but as a patient. It was interesting to attend the various educational sessions for the audiologists, listen in on the latest product launches from the hearing aid manufacturers, and walk the expansive exhibition hall to explore new and innovative products for people with hearing loss. I am so glad I attended.

Positive take-homes from the AAA conference

1. Audiologists are genuinely concerned for our welfare. There were many sessions describing the details of patient-centered care in attempts to provide more personalized and effective hearing care for people with hearing loss. These talks were well attended and numerous questions were raised.

2. Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing devices are slowly being accepted. While there seemed to be push-back from some audiologists when the OTC hearing aid concept was first floated, most sessions at AAA 2018 seemed to regard OTC as a done deal. Attention was focused on how to best integrate OTC hearing aid wearers into an audiology practice, rather than rejecting the initiative entirely.

3. Audiologists are thinking about unbundling. Most audiologists currently charge patients a fully loaded price when they buy hearing aids. This price includes both the aids and the cost of the audiologist’s time for fitting and follow-up appointments, which makes it challenging for patients to understand exactly what they are getting for their money. There were many sessions describing unbundling as a way to increase transparency, lower upfront costs to patients (if you pay for service over time, you may even be able to afford a more souped up hearing aid on the front end), and allow audiologists to be more accurately paid for their time. This is a big change, but some practices are taking it on.

4. Product innovation is alive and well. The exhibit hall was filled with new and enhanced products by traditional hearing aid manufacturers, but also new entrants. For example, Nuheara launched its new IQ Buds Boost which uses the same fitting prescriptions used by audiologists. Widex also teased a machine learning hearing aid, while Phonak announced a line of rechargeable hearing aids for all ages and hearing loss types. There were also booths for less technical products like pillows that can be used with headphones to make sleeping easier for tinnitus sufferers. I loved seeing all the creative products for people with hearing loss! Editors note: For more on the technology launched at AAA, see our post Hearing Aid Technology Update – What You Missed at #AAAConf18

5. Audiology students were abundant. This is good news because it means that audiology as a profession is still going strong. As the population ages, quality audiologists will be needed more and more. If demographic and noise trends hold, it is possible that more people will have hearing loss than not.

6. There was a lot of interest in the patient perspective. My talk was well attended and I received numerous questions and comments after the session. Later, I walked the exhibit hall and met with representatives from several State Audiology Organizations who expressed interest in a follow-up talk for their constituents. I am hoping that some of these will be possible.

Negative take-homes from the AAA conference

1. Limited hearing assistance was offered. Few sessions were captioned or had listening assistive technology available. This was not surprising since the audience did not likely include many people with hearing issues, but making the options available would have shown respect for the people who did need them.

2. Poor communication habits were on display. At many of the sessions, questions were asked without using microphones and presenters did not repeat these questions before answering them. This is fairly typical at large meetings, but I had hoped for better from professionals whose job is focused on improving communication.

3. There were few opportunities to take in a different perspective. The talks were dominated by presenting audiologists, hearing researchers and hearing aid manufacturers. While this is not surprising, I was hoping to see more varied points of view expressed. I was very pleased to represent the patient perspective in my talk, since it did not seem to be on display elsewhere.

All in all, it was a wonderful convention, with much learning, innovation and forward thinking on display. I hope I am able to attend again sometime soon.

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