The Value of Outsider Perspectives

An article that I wrote was just published in an industry trade journal called The Hearing Review. The article focuses on how the hearing aid industry is perceived by those outside of the industry and what we can learn from that perception.

I wrote the article after having listened for years to the opinions of people in the Bay Area and around the world on the hearing aid industry. While many of their perceptions were incorrect or out of date, they still revealed to me what we as an industry were doing wrong. I also thought about what the implication of these misperceptions were for our industry—we should not simply ignore them for being wrong and irrelevant because those opinions they have indirect consequences for the growth of our industry.

One of the main messages of the article is that evidence-based product development by companies and evidence-based practice by audiologists can help spur the development of new technology. If companies provide clinical data on patient benefit for their products and audiologists use that data in their decisions on what technology to give to their patients, entrepreneurs will be more motivated to develop new technology for the hearing impaired. This is because they will have confidence that demonstating patient benefit with their technology will result in success in the marketplace and a profitable return on their investment.

A side-bar in the article discusses how to realistically assess the potential market size of the hearing aid industry, a topic that I discussed relative to any industry in a previous post called How Big Is Your Potential Market.

Here are a couple clips from the article:

Despite all of these positive indicators that our industry is healthy and growing, many people outside of our industry still look upon the hearing aid business as if it were small, antiquated, and uninteresting. These outside opinions affect future customers by influencing their opinion of hearing technology and the process of obtaining a hearing aid. It also affects our industry in more subtle ways: Top university graduates may not be attracted to work in our industry, technology innovators may not be interested to contribute to our industry, and high-tech companies may be reluctant to pursue business opportunities in our arena. These influences can only have the effect of dampening the growth potential for dispensing professionals and companies in the hearing aid industry.


We can embrace the aspects of other industries that are likely to bring about positive change and that promote the integrity and quality of its products and services. Valid clinical data that demonstrate product benefit should become a part of product development industry-wide. This clinical data should be made openly available to audiologists and other dispensing professionals, and these professionals should embrace the evidence-based practice approach. Hearing care professionals should know what benefit new products provide to patients, should demand supportive data from manufacturers, and should be cautious when they see claims that are vaguely worded with no supporting data. This approach is understood by everyone outside of our field, and by embracing these standards industry-wide, we can only increase support for our industry among government, health insurance companies, health care professionals and potential patients.

BusinessWeek on Cochlear Implants

Link: Listen: The Sound Of Hope.

Only 17,000 people worldwide had cochlear devices implanted last year, yet in the U.S. alone, some 900,000 people are believed to be deaf or near-deaf.

With numbers like these, why investors are afraid of the hearing impairment market is beyond me (well, not quite beyond me: see slide 5 in my presentation at the MedAlley conference). And this is just those who are deaf and near-deaf. The number of people who require hearing aids but don’t have one is an order of magnitude larger.

UHA in Nuremberg

Got back this past weekend from the main hearing aid and audiology conference in Europe called UHA (Union der Hörgeräteakustiker Kongress). Its location alternates between Frankfurt and Nuremberg, and luckily this year it was in the latter. The little that I saw of the city was charming. Much of it was leveled in WWII, but they’ve reconstructed many of their old landmarks so that the town center incorporates the partial appearance of a preserved medieval village, complete with the surrounding city wall and towers. Here are some photos:

Nurnberg1_3
Nurmberg2_2
Nurmberg3

Interestingly (or not), the meeting’s name has been changed to EUHA (E for European) to make the meeting seem that it is representative of all of Europe rather than just of Germany (in the past it has been known as the German Congress). Still, almost all of the meeting is still in German and the people that I talked to said that the meeting will never in the foreseeable future be held outside of Germany.

MedicalAlley MNBio Conference

I’m speaking on Thursday at a Biotech conference in St. Paul, MN. I’m talking about the hearing aid industry, focusing on issues that can be compared and applied to other biomedical industries. I’ll be talking about:

  • Misconceptions about the industry
  • Sales&Marketing strategies
  • Current approaches to innovation
  • Involving universities in research
  • Current and future industry trends

I’ll probably post my talk on my own website later, will link to it here if I do.