What do Warbyparker.com and eyebuydirect.com, have in common? They are all in the business of selling eyeglasses through the internet. There are now several other competitors in that space as well, and all claim to massively undercut the brick-and-mortar optometry shops. Buying prescription eyewear online seems relatively straightforward, especially for younger people who not only are more accustomed to using new technology to keep costs down, they most likely have simpler eyeglass prescriptions as well. I think I might try it myself this year. At less than $500., maybe I would be able to afford more than one pair and could change them out based on what color I was wearing that day – cool!
Even more exciting: I discovered recently that hearing aids could also be purchased online. That transaction sounded like much more of a challenge, technologically; yet, it was even more appealing to me than online eyewear because the cost of hearing aids is much higher than the cost of glasses. I decided to take the plunge with a hearing aid company and test the idea of hearing aids online for myself. I selected Audicus as my hearing aid trial partner, as they claim to be the leader in the online hearing aid space.
I liked Audicus’s customer service and responsiveness immediately. They encouraged me to take their online hearing test even though I had had a recent hearing test at Costco. I thought it would be interesting to compare the results. I found the two tests to be amazingly similar, though the online test was a bit briefer. The next step in the process was for me to speak to Audicus’s audiologist about my test results and what they recommend in the way of hearing devices.
The result of my Audicus hearing test was virtually identical to the one I had had done at Costco. As is typical for someone my age, I am losing hearing at the upper register. In addition, I am struggling more every year in loud restaurants and classroom situations. For someone who facilitates workshops and speaks in public, that is not a good trend, so the audiologist and I agreed it was time for me to try hearing aids.
There are many shapes and sizes of hearing aids. Audicus specializes in the “receiver-in-canal” variety, so for me the hearing aid of choice would be the “Clara,” their proprietary device of this kind. Average hearing aid prices for this kind of device typically hover around $2000. – $2500. per unit and they can go much higher. Plus, if you have hearing loss in both ears, you will need to double that figure. Audicus prices the basic Claras at $699.––a significant savings. That price can go a bit higher if you want to add enhanced clarity, Bluetooth, or rechargeability, but it stays well below comparable units at hearing aid centers, including Costco.
Hearing aids are seldom covered by health insurance (go figure!), so the consumer often has to bear that full cost burden. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, only 16% of adults age 20-69 who could benefit from hearing aids have ever worn them. Cost is a big factor in the low usage count, so it is possible that we may see more baby boomers wearing them than their parents did if they can reduce the cost barrier.
I have now worn mine for two months and have sent them back for one adjustment so far. That adjustment proved very helpful in allowing me to hear better in noisy restaurants. I like my Claras and I am getting more and more used to them every day. As I have learned from the professionals at Audicus and from articles about the results of research on hearing and the brain, adjusting to hearing aids requires time for the brain to adapt to new signals and make different choices about what to interpret.
Audicus is a privately held company. Its founder, Patrick Freuler, wanted to destigmatize hearing aids by making them affordable for a much larger swath of the population that needs them. Patrick’s idea was that the more people wear them, the less stigma there will be. When I interviewed Patrick, he shared some of the learning curve he and his partners went through after launching Audicus in 2012. They first learned that hearing care is something that needs LOTS of personal support. Initially, they underestimated that aspect of the customer experience. Now, the support team at Audicus is 50% of the company.
Patrick told me they also underestimated how tech savvy baby boomers have become. The idea of purchasing hearing aids on the internet was not as tough a sell as they originally anticipated. In the future, he would like to see Audicus navigate to a complete hearing solution platform. They are currently developing sales channels and partnerships which may allow them to launch Audicus stores in pharmacies, thereby spanning the digital and physical in a variety of combinations, offering consumers many more choices than they have today.
I have learned from my research that if those of us who have hearing loss wait too long to increase our ability to hear the sounds we are missing, our brain will forget about those sounds and we will never hear them again. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon. We only actually hear what our brains have the ability to interpret. Hearing aids help our brains remember the sounds we cannot hear without them and allow us to hear them again. I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer. I hope reducing the cost of hearing aids will allow millions of others to catch their hearing loss before it’s too late for their brains.
This content was originally published here.