The future of hearing healthcare is under construction

By Shari Eberts

How do you envision the future of hearing healthcare? Will treatment options move fully online, or will a hybrid model be preferred? Will innovative technologies attract new users to hearing care? Will direct-to-consumer models lessen the polarization of hearing care access along economic and demographic lines? How will hearing care professionals adapt their business and patient care models to meet the differently styled demand? And finally, what form will person-centered care (PCC) take in the future? 

These are challenging questions, but ones that Ida Institute is tackling in its Future Hearing Journeys project. In December 2020, Ida organized two online innovation workshops with stakeholders from around the world to examine the trends that will affect hearing care with the goal of helping both people with hearing loss and hearing care professionals navigate this changing landscape. I was pleased to participate in one of the workshops, which I found interesting, enlightening, and hopeful. 

Ida’s Future Re-Imagined Project

The 25 workshop participants represented all areas of hearing healthcare. There were hearing care professionals, people with hearing loss, patient advocacy representatives, academics, and key thought leaders in the industry. By bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders, Ida aimed to spark creativity, innovation, and connectedness in the world of hearing healthcare. 

Prior to the workshop, Ida conducted more than 60 interviews and six focus groups as well as a global survey that collected input from more than 1500 additional stakeholders from around the world. The input was used to identify current trends in hearing healthcare, which were used to create four imaginary futures for hearing healthcare defined around two primary metrics: rate of technological advancement (rapid and moderate) and how informed and engaged consumers are in their hearing care (more and less). 

Each future scenario came with its own benefits and risks for the variety of stakeholders involved. For example, when there is rapid technological advancement that could benefit hearing outcomes, there might also be high levels of misinformation. Conversely, in a low innovation scenario, consumers and hearing care professionals might benefit from increased levels of data privacy. 

Each participant was assigned a scenario to explore in-depth in a smaller breakout group. We examined the benefits and risks for consumers as well as hearing care professionals in each scenario and discussed what PCC would look like in this future world. I represented the consumer point of view, but the magic was in learning how other stakeholders saw the same scenario. 
My hopes for the future of hearing healthcare

As the final task of the workshop, all participants wrote a postcard to their future selves, outlining their expectations for hearing healthcare ten years from now. My card contained my hopes for both people with hearing loss and hearing care professionals in what will likely be a world marked by technological innovation and consumer empowerment: 

  • Hearing is considered a critical and intrinsic part of wellness and overall health
  • PCC is practiced routinely as both consumers and hearing care professionals feel empowered to find creative and personal hearing care solutions for each individual
  • Financial models evolve so professionals can be compensated fairly for PCC activities in addition to hearing tests and selling hearing devices
  • Society embraces the importance of hearing access such that captions and hearing loops are as ubiquitous as ramps

The key to success will be the much-needed realization that hearing is an integral part of health and happiness. This shift in mindset would create space for the changes in regulations, financial models, and in-clinic behaviors needed for PCC to be embraced and practiced by all. 

I look forward to the next steps of the project as Ida synthesizes the learnings from the workshops and the dialogue continues. When we share and plan with one another across stakeholder groups, the future is bound to be bright. 

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Her e-book, “Person-centered Care from the Patient’s Perspective”, details her experience living with hearing loss. She hopes the book will provide audiologists with valuable insights they can use to make their practices more person-centered. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.