D_Strom.jpg (8295 bytes)Looking at hearing instrument sales and seeing that almost no progress has been made in market share during the past 5 years can conjure the image of Sisyphus who was condemned by the Olympian gods to an eternity of rolling a boulder up a mountain only to have it tumble back down. However, looking at the cover of this month’s Hearing Review, one is a reminded that there are some truly exiting things being tried to jump-start the market, affect change, and get amplification into the ears of those who need it.

This month’s HR cover is from the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS), which has embarked on a program that has as its goal nothing short of rebranding hearing loss in the consciousness of the general public. CHS recently made a presentation to the members of the Hearing Industries Association (HIA). CHS Board Member Lisa Thomas, stepping out of a stereotypical “old ladies” costume (picture Ruth Buzzy) to reveal underneath a sleek running suit, told HIA members that people who suffer from hearing loss are “busy, not boring, and definitely not over-the-hill…You want to grab our attention? Show pictures of Tom Cruise, not a senior’s cruise.”

Hurray! In light of the fact that most consumers envision themselves as 10 years younger than they really are (and baby-boomers probably twice that), repositioning hearing instruments to portray a solution (eg, better hearing) rather than a problem (eg, aging) is a welcomed and refreshing approach. For more information on the CHS program, see Ben Van Houten’s article on page 40.

In addition to the CHS campaign, there are at least two other ongoing large-scale programs that are advancing the cause of hearing education:

n An alliance of the hearing instrument manufacturers, distributors, dispensing professionals, and suppliers has been established to become the world’s largest noncommercial provider of hearing health care data. Called Hear-It, the organization’s Web site (www.hear-it.org) is designed to become the world’s clearinghouse for hearing health care information.

According to Hear-It Director Kim Ruberg, the aim of the organization is to increase popular knowledge of hearing loss and benefits of hearing instruments to users—and to prove to legislators that hearing loss is a major detriment to society. Ruberg says that an untreated hearing loss costs society an average of $300,000 per hearing-impaired individual.

n Working in concert with Hear-It, the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) has initiated an innovative Physicians Referral Development Program that includes the provision of continuing medical education (CME) credits for doctors. The two-CD kit includes everything that a dispensing professional needs for gaining referrals from physicians, as well as provides information to the would-be referring physicians on hearing loss and its remediation. (For more information on this program, see the February HR, page 28.)

The truth is that the hearing health care market is not rolling Sisyphus’ stone up the hill and (all evidence to the contrary) we’re not in an absurd, futile situation; the message of hearing health care is a cogent, important one that consumers will eventually embrace. However, in order to accomplish this goal, the hearing industry and hearing care professionals need to continue to find new ways of reaching the public. The CHS, BHI, and Hear-it programs are excellent starts, and hearing care professionals would do well to check into them.

Karl Strom