Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids have been on the horizon for a few years. Now that we are in 2022, it seems that this will be the year for OTC hearing aids. As a hearing healthcare professional, you will need to evaluate how OTC hearing aids will fit into your practice model. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you see how over-the-counter hearing aids can integrate into your practice.
First, do not worry that OTC hearing aids spell doom for the audiology field. While some patients will opt to skip professional services and simply purchase OTC hearing aids from a retailer, not all will. This is a great opportunity for you to show your patients how you can offer them additional options.
Over-the-counter hearing aids also give you another way to overcome common barriers to getting hearing aids: accessibility and affordability. A report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine found that 67-86 percent of people who could benefit from hearing aids do not use them. In order to increase the percentage of people who use hearing aids, it is essential to overcome the barriers of accessibility and affordability. OTC hearing aids offer one solution.
To help you prepare for the advent of OTC hearing aids, here are a few steps you can take to integrate these devices into your practice model:
- Determine your level of involvement.
Do you want to sell OTC devices yourself, or do you want to only provide patients with a list of recommended devices? Do you want your practice to offer adjustments and ongoing support for those with OTC hearing aids? Decide what level of involvement you want your practice to have when it comes to OTC devices.
- Define the population that can benefit from OTC hearing aids.
Define the characteristics of the population that could benefit from OTC devices. For example, they may be patients who have financial or personal objections to traditional hearing aids. Perhaps they think they don’t need all of the advanced options or technology that come with some hearing aids. By defining the population, you will be able to recognize a good candidate for OTC hearing aids.
- Identify devices to recommend.
Determine which devices you will recommend based on the needs of your population and your practice model. This will be an ongoing process as devices and technology continue to evolve. You may want to consider factors like cost, ease of use, noise reduction features, cosmetics, user customization, and the likelihood of devices persisting in the market.
- Set the price for devices.
Setting the price for OTC hearing aids is different from traditional hearing aids because OTC devices will be available more widely—online and at larger companies. This means that the price will need to be competitive. As you set the price for the devices you offer, consider the reseller agreement, as well as the need to both be competitive and accommodate your population and practice.
- Determine profit and value.
Because of the need to be competitive in pricing, the markup on OTC devices will likely be minimal. This means that a practice model focused only on selling these devices will likely not be very profitable. Instead, focus on the services you can offer as a hearing professional and how OTC hearing aids can fit into this.
Consider other services you can offer as a hearing healthcare professional and how these can benefit those who use OTC hearing aids. For example, some patients will want assistance in setting up their devices, programming support, and ongoing education. By unbundling services from device sales, you can practice transparency, highlight the value of your services as a hearing professional, and improve affordability.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of and satisfaction with your practice model.
Once you begin offering over-the-counter hearing aids, it is necessary to evaluate how effective and sustainable the practice model is over time. You should consider patient satisfaction, which can be evaluated through device return rates. As time passes, you can adjust your practice model and device offerings as you see fit.
Now is the perfect time to prepare for OTC hearing aids to hit the market. To learn more about how you can integrate over-the-counter devices into your practice, we invite you to contact us today at Audiology Plus.