The AAA 2024+HearTECH Expo took place April 17-20 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, GA. As I walked the show floor, attended sessions, and spoke with exhibitors and attendees, I got the sense that the unofficial theme of the event was making a better future for hearing care. The many educational sessions, exhibitor booths, networking events, and more provided opportunities for attendees to deepen their professional knowledge to contribute to the advancement of the field.

A Doctor’s Touch

As keynote speaker for the opening general session, Abraham Verghese, MD, MACP, spoke about bringing back the human element to the doctor-patient relationship with “A Doctor’s Touch.” While he is an MD, he believes the same principle applies to audiologists and other hearing care professionals. It’s becoming increasingly common for all healthcare practitioners to enter data into tablets during visits and feel rushed to see their next patient. To counter that trend, he urged those in attendance to make an effort to really connect with their patients and show caring in their care. 

Auracast Demo 

The Bluetooth SIG put on a demo of Auracast at their booth in conjunction with GN ReSound to provide a taste of what it will be like to experience this Bluetooth LE audio technology for directing broadcasts in public spaces directly to hearing devices. 

Demo of Auracast at the Bluetooth SIG booth at AAA 2024.
Demo of Auracast at the Bluetooth SIG booth at AAA 2024. Photo: The Hearing Review

Outfitted with a pair of hearing devices and a smartphone with an app that lets you “Find a Broadcast” from among the available selections, attendees could experience using Auracast in multiple settings in a travel scenario. This included watching and listening to the television in an airport sports bar, passing time waiting for a flight by watching and hearing a movie on a friend’s laptop (at the same time as the friend without sharing a hearing device), hearing announcements at the airline gate, and listening to a speaker give a conference presentation in a large venue after landing at your destination. 

The Auracast rollout is a work in progress. Apparently, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is one of the few public spaces where Auracast is currently available, so an airport was a fitting setting for the demo. 

For the demonstration, a dongle connected to the TV and a USB drive inserted in the laptop provided access to Auracast broadcasts. But Auracast-ready TVs and laptops already embedded with the technology for native use are currently in the works, so soon you won’t need to retrofit those devices. And some hearing aids are Auracast ready. 

Panel Promoting the Audiology Profession

Quite a crowd gathered to hear the panel discussion “Hear the Future Forecast—Audiology Under Siege: Industry and Audiologists Working Together to Safeguard and Promote the Profession, Now and in the Future.” Panelists included Patti Trautwein, vice president, market access and reimbursement, Cochlear; Mikkel Knudsen, president, U.S. commercial business, ReSound; Gary Rosenblum, president, Oticon Inc.; Mike O’Neil, president, Signia; Soren Nielsen, president, Widex USA; Jason Mayer, vice president, Phonak; Jeff Geigel, chief sales officer, Starkey; and AAA President-Elect Patricia Gaffney, AuD, as moderator. 

A panel of hearing device company representatives discussed the future of audiology at AAA 2024.
A panel of hearing device company representatives discussed the future of audiology at AAA 2024. Photo: Roy Felts

Speaking to the importance of focusing on collaboration between manufacturers and hearing care professionals (HCPs) to help provide the best hearing care to patients, Oticon’s Rosenblum said, “We need to change the narrative from hearing aids to hearing care, striking a balance between technological advancement and the service component for care.” He advocated for educating HCPs about sound processing so they can better help their patients. “Instruments are only as good as the people dispensing them,” he added. “Ultimately, it’s how they’re used.”

Trautwein of Cochlear added her input from the perspective of the cochlear implant side of the industry. “We need to collaborate with audiologists,” she agreed. To her, this is important when it comes to diagnostics, how best to navigate when to get implants, and understanding how cochlear implants can work with hearing aids, because “It doesn’t always come easily to audiologists.” 

When asked about the future of hearing technology, the panelists said their companies are working toward creating hearing devices that are as efficient and effective as possible and incorporate more and better features, including artificial intelligence. 

When discussing why more people who need hearing devices don’t use them and what can be done, panelists agreed that hearing device manufacturers and audiologists should work together to help remove stigma—and that this trend seems to be going in the right direction. 

But they also agreed that they all need to combine their efforts in advocating for policy change that will allow more people to gain access to the advanced hearing technologies that are being developed. This includes educating lawmakers about hearing care and how to provide the legislation, infrastructure, and funding needed to increase accessibility for patients. 

And it involves setting the record straight when it comes to inaccuracies and misinformation about hearing care. “We have to be credible and do it in the right way,” cautioned Phonak’s Mayer. “Otherwise, we risk losing our moment in the spotlight.”  

The consensus was that as younger, tech savvy generations grow older, they will be interested in and use hearing devices at a younger age, but that more audiologists are needed to meet demand.

All members of the panel agreed that while there are certainly hurdles to be overcome in the field of audiology, the future stands to offer advancements in hearing technology and treatment that will improve people’s hearing health, especially if accessibility to that care can be expanded with policy change and more HCPs to provide care.  

According to the panelists, overall, the future of hearing care looks bright. 

Scholarships: Investing in the Future

I was happy to see quite a lot of students attending the show and conference sessions. Recognizing that we’ll need new hearing care professionals graduating and joining the field of audiology to meet the growing need, new scholarships were announced at AAA 2024. 

The Jill Botkin Hearing Healthcare Accessibility Scholarship, named in memory of longtime HearUSA employee Jill Botkin, AuD, is a new joint scholarship with the American Academy of Audiology “to support future audiologists committed to providing greater access to hearing care services, particularly in underserved areas.” Students will be able to apply for the scholarship through the American Academy of Audiology Foundation. Applications are scheduled to open in January 2025. 

Further Reading: HearUSA and AAA Launch Scholarship to Support Future Audiologists

For students specifically interested in private practice audiology, the new Amit Gosalia Scholarship in Private Practice Audiology is now available. Sponsored by Amit Gosalia, AuD, who practices in the Los Angeles area, this scholarship provides an opportunity for two students to be awarded $1,500 each to put toward their studies. According to the AAA Foundation, “Students who show exceptional promise as a clinical audiologist interested in pursuing a career in private practice as evidenced by the student’s resume, rubric, and personal statement are encouraged to apply.” The deadline for this year is April 30, 2024. 

Further Reading: Marketing Tips for Audiologists to Bring in New Business

Paws and Relax

Among the more light-hearted parts of the conference was the Paws and Relax event. 

HearingLife sponsored the pen of frolicking puppies, in collaboration with Furkids, Georgia’s largest no-kill animal shelter and rescue organization. 

AAA 2024 attendees play with puppies during the Paws and Relax event.
AAA 2024 attendees play with puppies during the Paws and Relax event. Photo: The Hearing Review

It might not have been directly related to hearing, but it was a chance to take a break from the conference, cuddle with cute critters, and find out more about Furkids and even donate to the organization to make the rescue dogs’ lives better, if so inclined. According to AAA, the goal of the event was “to create a positive and memorable experience for attendees” and “support animal welfare.” I think the Paws and Relax event helped attendees feel better about the future in general.