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The Rise of OTC Hearing Aids

Nicholas Reed, assistant professor at the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, compared PSAPs to hearing aids to see how OTC options might measure up.

Ten years ago, the National Institute of Health and National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reported that the U.S. healthcare system was not meeting the needs of the majority of adults with hearing loss.

This crisis remains unchanged today due largely to cost, social stigma, and awareness. However, the improving technology of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids may help resolve the issue.

Seilesh Babu, MD, with the Michigan Ear Institute, and the moderator of yesterday’s “Over-The-Counter Hearing Care: Current and Future Innovations to Help You and Your Patients,” said supporting OTC initiatives is the right thing to do for patients/consumers. It gives access to reduced cost options, a simplified access point into the hearing care industry, and improved utilization of the hearing health system.

“The OTC category may drive patients into the market sooner,” said Dr. Babu. “Nothing prevents hearing health providers from selling them.” OTC options also provide the potential to drive the consumer into alternative channels later.

Nicholas Reed, an assistant professor at the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, showed studies comparing the differences between hearing aids and personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) as well as devices fit by a hearing care professional and those not. And the preference and performance gap are narrowing.

Hearing aids, he said, are the gold standard of care. They are regulated by the FDA and typically cost $800 to $3,000 per device with minimal insurance benefit—and no benefit for a Medicare patient.

PSAPs, on the other hand, are unregulated by the FDA and available via e-commerce for $30-$300 per device (but sometimes higher). Dr. Reed pointed to the tremendous advances made recently with PSAP options.

Some PSAP devices in the mid-price range, he said, perform similar to hearing aids. He cited one study in which a mid-level hearing aid, costing around $1,200, showed a mean of an 11.9 percent improvement in hearing accuracy, while another PSAP, costing around $350, showed a mean improvement of 11 percent. Another PSAP, priced $350, showed a mean improvement of 10.2 percent, and another at $300 showed a mean improvement of 7.7 percent.

“PSAPs/OTC hearing care may represent a transitory step in hearing healthcare that addresses situation-specific needs, reduce the amplification gap, reduce time to hearing aid adoption, and increase technologic innovation,” Dr. Reed said.


Checklist for OTC Hearing Devices

Carrie L. Nieman, MD, MPH, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, provided considerations for determining the effectiveness of hearing devices.

Technical Considerations

  • Directional microphone
  • Remote microphone
  • T-coil

Older Adult-Friendly

  • Size and layout of buttons, verbal prompts
  • Charging options
  • Accessible training materials such as videos in large print

Patient Considerations

  • Manual dexterity
  • Cognitive function
  • Prior technology experience and openness
  • Access to a smartphone
  • Support availability
  • Technology self-efficacy