How does a third of the price sound?

Improving hearing that has started to fade is now much cheaper, quicker and easier than ever before.

Above: Dr Peter Blamey. (Image: Mark Coulson / Science in Public).

By Stephen Easton

A new type of hearing aid could improve the lives of thousands of older Australians simply because it costs less than a third as much as other models, according to the researchers who developed it.

The new hearing aids from Australia Hears can be fitted and fine-tuned by the user themself, without the added costs of an audiologist’s expertise or a custom mould of the person’s ear. 

The user can also adjust the levels of different frequency ranges to their own preferences using a computer program that connects to the hearing aid wirelessly through Bluetooth.

The two new hearing aids were launched in Melbourne last Wednesday by the inventor of one of its core technologies, Dr Peter Blamey, co-founder of Australia Hears and Deputy Director of the Bionic Ear Institute.

Dr Blamey said the hearing aids would improve the lives of “the millions of Australians who had been put off by the cost, complexity and stigma of conventional hearing aids”.

“At the moment there are about three and a half million people in Australia who would benefit from a hearing aid, but only about 20 per cent of those actually wear a hearing aid,” Dr Blamey said.  

“People who have been putting it off because it’s too expensive can now do it for less than a third of the cost.”

People should expect to experience some hearing loss as they age, much like they expect they may need glasses, according to Dr Blamey, who also worked with Dr Graeme Clark in the 1970s on the team that developed the Cochlear implant or ‘bionic ear’.

“It will improve their level of communication and their quality of life, and it will have a big effect on aged care,” he said. 

“When you get to the 60 to 70-year-old age group, more than 50 per cent of people will benefit from a hearing aid, and when you get to 70 years old, its actually 70 per cent of people.

“We think a hearing aid can make a huge difference, and we would really love to have the aged care community on board with this to help their clients, because its going to make everyone’s life better – the staff and the people they are looking after.

“We’ve had great results in getting a good fitting from people doing it themselves, but people like aged care staff can also help do the fitting and adjust the levels.”

The new behind-the-ear style hearing aids incorporate technology also used in the famous Cochlear implants that allow some deaf people to hear again. In contrast, the new hearing aid is aimed at people with mild hearing loss, like the majority of older Australians.

Australia Hears was founded in April and received a $50,000 grant from the Victorian Government to develop further hearing aid technology at RMIT University’s Rapid Prototyping Facility, using advanced manufacturing equipment like 3D printers.

Brisbane audiologist Steve Grayson-Riley has trialled and added the Australia Hears hearing aids to his range. 

“They are just as good as hearing aids costing much more,” he said. “And they give control back to the wearer. For many people that’s important, and it was what I was looking for when I first studied audiology.”

Tags: aged, aged-care, ageing, australia-hears, bionic-ear, cheapest-hearing-aid, cochlear, dr-peter-blamey, hearing-aid, hearing-loss, rapid-prototyping-facility, retirement, retirement-living, rmit, steve-grayson-riley,

7 thoughts on “How does a third of the price sound?

  1. This product has an interesting alternative model of service delivery which I predict to be only suitable for a relatively small subset of hearing aid candidates. The ADRO technology has been around for some time and has not been adopted by any large hearing aid manufacturers that I am aware of thus far. It would therefore be interesting to examine how it compared against a variety of other processing strategies, rather than just one as referred to in press releases.
    The US TGA refused permission for “over the counter” sales of hearing instruments due to its concerns regarding safety to the public. There obviously remains the question as to how the provider can know if their potential client does not have a medically treatable condition without conducting an assessment, or indeed if the client’s condition might potentially be life threatening (eg Acoustic Neuroma, Cholesteatoma). Assuming the aforementioned ethical issue can be resolved (the Audiology Australia Ethical code requires its members to have applied and received an exemption to proceed if not seeing the client personally) it would be reassuring to know the supply has in place mechanisms to ensure those clients with visual, tactile can cognitive difficulties do not experience frustration and dissappointment in attempting to have their purchase work satisfactorily. I note a two week return period but this seems hardly adequate (most providers allow 30 days for returns) and there are the issues of misfitting receivers, their exchange, ongoing repair and infection control procedures.

  2. Audiologist are trained to undertake hearing assessments, diagnose hearing disorders and prescribe treatment plans – just part of which may be the fitting of specifically selected devices, such as hearing aids. When audiologists fit hearing aids, they provide tailored counselling and communication training to ensure that you make the most of all listening situations. In order to gain benefit from hearing aids, it is important to have realistic expectations of what the instruments will do for you. This is because some hearing losses cause a simple loss of volume, whereas others cause processing disorders that result in sounds like speech never sounding clear, regardless of which hearing is fitted. Each individual should understand their hearing loss before purchasing hearing aids so that they know what to expect. Hearing aids do not immediately change how an individual hears – they only change the sound that reaches the ear. It takes time and specialised training for the brain to learn to interpret the sounds delivered by a hearing aid. Some individuals receive more benefit than others, depending on the characteristics of the hearing loss. Audiologists carry out a number of different tests to understand the characteristics of the individual hearing loss you have, and the results are explained to you and reported to the medical doctor when further medical intervention is required. Those results guide any decisions the individual and his or her audiologist will make about if, or which, hearing aid is the best solution for your hearing needs.

    Purchasing hearing aids without a professional consultation may be cheaper than acquiring them through the professional services of an audiologist, but the essential component that leads to successful rehabilitation will be missed out. Australia Hears is suggesting that people bypass the audiologist and determine by themselves if a hearing aid is needed. We suggest that you consult an audiologist first and discuss all available treatment options before deciding which approach is best for you. The consultation fee you pay for the services of an audiologist could prevent you wasting thousands of dollars on hearing aids that are not suitable for you.

    Independent audiologists from all across Australia are able to select hearing devices from all suppliers in Australia, including Australia Hears. For independent clinics, go to http://www.aaapp.org.au and search for clinics via your post code, or contact the Australian Association of Audiologists in Private Practice on 03 9895 4447.

  3. For the last 8 years I researched self-programmable hearing aids as part of my PhD in audiology. There is indeed a special population with a particular condition of the ear who greatly benefit from programming their own hearing aids. The research showed that there is a need for further technological development in the area of self-programming hearing aids for those with fluctuating hearing loss. However, it became apparent during the study that self-programmable hearing aids are useless without the intervention and ongoing support of an audiologist.

    I respect Dr Blamey as a physicist and inventor but I do not share his trivialised views of audiologists and hearing losses. I had the opportunity to fit Australia Hears hearing aids to some of my patients and endorse that they are not expensive for the level of technology they provide. It seems however misleading to advertise ADRO technology, as a new concept considering it has been available in Australia for nearly 10 years. I also do not agree that it is cost effective to by-pass the audiologist’s expertise when considering a hearing aid.

    In my opinion, online sales without audiological support will only help to perpetuate the bad reputation that hearing aids already have. In the recent past limited technology and unqualified providers meant that many hearing aids ended up in the top drawer. Developments in knowledge and technology currently ensure that there is a suitable solution for any and everyone with any degree of hearing loss under the auspice of a suitably qualified professional.

    Audiologists are trained to select, provide and maintain hearing technology to the public. There are thousands of different hearing instruments of varied prices in the current market. How is a lay person to know which technology is appropriate for them? Surely there is a real need for professional guidance.

    It is certainly acceptable for some very experienced hearing aid users to buy a replacement online. A first time user however should never proceed to such purchase without a prior face-to-face audiological assessment and assurance of ongoing support.

    My own experience is already showing that Internet sales of hearing aids are increasing the workload for audiologists. More and more unhappy customers are knocking at our doors seeking help with purchased hearing aids, which are inappropriate for their needs.

    I am all in favour of using technology to the advantage of the hearing impaired. Current technology supports the possibility of virtual “face-to-face” audiological assessment conducted online by a suitably qualified audiologist for those in remote area for example. I would like to suggest that Australia Hears as a company concentrate their efforts building better relationships with audiologists for the benefit of the consumers.

  4. Technology is cheap. Expertise is expensive. It may be possible now to develop an app for an Iphone to convert the blutooth headset into a hearing aid and then test the wearer and prescribe the gain. It might cost as little as 49c. It might even be ok for some people. Is it right for you though? That’s where experts can help. There will always be a role for experts to advise the public and evaluate new technnology. Consult an expert. An Audiologist.

  5. I am taking time out from answering the hundreds of enquiries per day that Australia Hears is receiving from people seeking hearing help. Most of them have already been to an audiologist. Some of them we refer back to an audiologist because we believe they need face-to-face help. Most of the others tell us they have been looking for something like this for many years. A typical response is “this worked straight out of the box and changed my life”.

    We have a clinic in East Melbourne where people who want face-to-face help can buy our ADRO hearing aids. Several independent audiologists already sell (and wear) our hearing aids. We recognise that many people need the service of an audiologist. Nearly three million Australians should be using hearing aids – but because of cost,stigma and other barriers, they delay getting a hearing aid until their hearing loss is profoundly affecting their quality of life. These are the people we want to help. Most of them will find the Australia Hears system gives them back control of their hearing. We are very keen to work with audiologists around Australia to achieve this.

    You’ve read the opinions of a few audiologists above:now go to http://www.australiahears.com.au/About/Testimonials.aspx
    and read the opinions of people who have actually tried our product.
    I welcome your comments and feedback – either online or by email at elaine.saunders@australiahears.com.au

  6. I am now 73. I purchased my first set of hearing aids (in the ear) in 2002 for $7000.00 but did not really use them until 2004 as my hearing continued to decline. I have consulted with an audiologist who adjusted the hearing aids ($100.00 per hearing aid each time).
    About 2008, I purchased a set of BTE hearing aids for $6000.00 followed by custom ear pieces at $300.00 each. and several service repairs at $300.00 (flat rate) for repairs.
    The audiologist administers a hearing evaluation each year ($100.00 per ear) and adjusts the hearing aid in her office by asking “How does that seem?” (She has a PHD in audiology) There are no background effects. One day, I had to back to the office due to the loudness of rain on the roof of my car.
    Presently I am being told that I need a new set of hearing aids ($6000.00) or “I cannot do anything more for you if you do not buy a new set of hearing aids.)
    An ENT and my family doctor say that I am wasting my money if I buy a new set of hearing aids.
    If I do purchase a new set of hearing aids, I want to adjust them myself. It seems to me that I am the “hearer” and know better than anyone else what I actually hear. Sitting in a quiet office and asking “how’s that seem?” is a wasted $200.00.

  7. I am wondering about the Blamey Saunders option. They do not tell you up front about the ongoing costs of their hearing aids, eg do batteries bought from a bulk source invalidate their after sales service? are their batteries unique to them? Do their client computer programs work on Linux? They do not say.
    Plus they may well work on commissions or sales quotas, but do not say so. I suspect this as I have had from them a buy now e mail message offering a year’s worth of the extras if I buy now ie valid this month only, plus another message baiting me with a free audio consultation if I buy their aids on the spot. These incentives are not ethical I think. There is no free pre purchase trial.

    Comments please?

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