D_Strom.jpg (8295 bytes)While few would hail 2002 as a particularly good year for the hearing industry, it was not without its bright spots. For example, rapid progress in hearing instrument technology continued, particularly in the areas of directional microphones and more economical digital aids. Hearing Industries Association (HIA) third quarter statistics indicate that digital aids now make up close to half (45.6%) of all unit sales, while programmables make up another quarter (25.7%) of sales. In other words, we’re nearing a point where three out of every four hearing instruments dispensed is programmable. This is extremely good news; studies suggest that the increasing use of directional and programmable technologies is linked to higher consumer satisfaction levels. Likewise, 2002 introduced new advances in cochlear implant technology, pharmaceutical insights for the prevention and treatment of hearing loss, and new findings regarding genetics. Additionally, as this issue of HR was going to press, InSound Medical (www.insoundmedical.com) of Newark, Calif, announced that its XT Series, which it describes as the first extended-wear hearing device, received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

On the gloomier side, the hearing industry expects to see its year-end hearing instrument unit sales remain about the same as 2001 levels. Even eternal optimists (myself included) concede that 2003 won’t bring anything near the potential double-digit growth we enthused about during the late-90s. More worrisome, according to our annual Dispenser Survey (see June HR), only 45% of consumers purchasing hearing instruments are first-time users, binaural hearing instrument purchases (currently at 72%) are approaching a saturation point, and the average selling price of hearing instruments appears to be leveling off or even declining—all of which could indicate a tougher financial environment for dispensing professionals.

Compared to the previous 3 years, 2002 marked a cooling-off period relative to major hearing industry acquisitions, with the only “blockbuster” deal being the purchase of Sonus by Amplifon (owner of Miracle Ear). Other notable acquisitions included William Demant’s purchase of Tremetrics, Plantronic’s purchase of Ameriphone, and Sonic Innovation’s purchase of Sentech and Orsonique. In short, the period of rapid consolidation (1999-2000) and forward integration (2001) seems to have stabilized—at least for now.

The challenges faced by today’s dispensing professionals include many of the themes that are touched upon in this edition of HR: the overall need for more counseling, follow-up, and customer satisfaction during the dispensing process (see Sergei Kochkin’s article on page 14); strategies for more effective outreach to reluctant potential users of audiological products/services (see Brian Taylor, MA and Von Hansen’s article on page 28); the continued development of professional referral sources (see James M. O’Day’s article on page 38); the utilization of the technical knowledge we already possess when fitting hearing aids (see Chester Pirzanski and Brenda Berge’s article on page 24); and the increased use of assistive devices in cases where hearing instruments just aren’t enough (see Mark J. Sanford’s article on page 34). I think you’ll find these articles practical and thought-provoking.

On a personal note, the staff of The Hearing Review would like to wish you the best of the holiday season. We also take this opportunity to thank our readers, our contributors, and our sponsors—those companies whose ads appear in HR and are responsible for bringing this magazine to your door each month—for their continued support.

Karl Strom