LunaJohn Luna, president and COO of Bernafon Inc USA, Eden Prairie, Minn, recently spoke with the Hearing Review about Bernafon’s product line, the company’s new technology developments, and several other industry-related topics.

What role does technology play in your company?

Technology is at the heart of Bernafon’s research and development. One example is Symbio’s advanced processing strategy that is fundamentally different from methods that arbitrarily separate incoming signals into independent channels on the basis of their frequency content. Symbio’s use of C.A.S.I.™ processing works in the time domain and accepts the entire incoming signal, preserving its natural integrity. The device then analyzes the intensity and dominant frequency components of the signal. The result is, we feel, a superior hearing solution providing excellent speech understanding and clear, natural sound.

What industry trends are you watching?

Manufacturers today are challenged with meeting market demands and trends. The trend in 2002-2003 continues to move toward entry-level digital products that more consumers can afford. This trend seems to be the focus for retail sales as well. Earlier this year, Bernafon Inc introduced the FLAIR entry-level, 100% digital product line. This development allows the company to have a complete digital solutions offering of entry-level, mid-range, and high-end digital solutions. The opportunity to offer audiologists and dispensers the ability to recommend 100% digital products that are better than the analog or programmable products they used to dispense will continue the trend toward digital sales in the US.

What do you see happening in the future for the hearing health care industry?

I believe the industry trend towards digital will continue and that the technology alone will not be enough. Rather, we will need to offer solutions to both our audiologists and our dispensers that help them to become more successful in fitting our hearing aids. Additionally, the consolidation we have seen in the industry at the retail and manufacturing levels will continue.

 A Q&A with Victor Bray, PhD, vice president, auditory research, Sonic Innovations Inc, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Which products does your company specialize in?

With the introduction of NATURA® hearing aids in 1998, Sonic Innovations became the first successful all-digital hearing aid company. Sonic has maintained this all-digital philosophy with the successive launches of CONFORMA™ in 1999, NATURA 2 and ALTAIR™ in 2000, QUARTET™ in 2001, TRIBUTE™ and ADESSO™ in 2002, and NATURA 3 in 2003. Our signature signal processing package includes multiple, independent, narrowband compression channels coupled with very-fast acting compression utilizing symmetrical attack and release times.

How is your company responding to trends?

Hearing care professionals (HCPs) and consumers are demanding that manufacturers distinguish between features and benefits, where features are the characteristics of hearing aids and benefits are the advantages attributable to the features. HCPs and consumers are learning that there are hearing aid features which have little or no benefit. Sonic Innovations has established through well-controlled, multi-site clinical trials the benefits attributable to the features found in their products.

What do you see as industry pros and cons?

For me, the major advantage continues to be the positive social outcome we can create as a result of providing appropriate evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation. As the National Council on Aging documented [see Jan 2000 HR, pgs. 6-34], untreated hearing loss in older people contributes to sadness and depression, worry and anxiety, paranoia, less social activity, emotional turmoil, and insecurity. However, successful treatment for hearing loss promotes better relationships with families, better feelings about the self, improved mental health, greater independence and security. It is within our power to significantly improve the quality of the lives of our patients; this is the great opportunity and reward of our profession. On the negative side, our industry is shrinking even though the aged population is growing. Over the last 2 years, hearing aid sales in the US decreased almost 2%, the percentage of first-time users decreased by 4% to an all-time low, and average prices for individual types of hearing aids decreased 6% from the peak in 1999-2000. These are clear signs of an industry that is not only in trouble, but in need of change in order to meet the needs of the hearing-impaired community.