The author offers insight into providing audiologists and their patients with information on the latest trend in hearing health care — assistive listening devices.

Now is an excellent time for hearing health care professionals to offer assistive listening devices (ALDs) to patients. The quality of ALDs has improved and making them available opens up additional ways to market your hearing health care services. Those professionals who offer both ALDs and hearing aids will be far ahead of others who only dispense hearing aids.

As marketing director of Harris Communications, a known presence in the ALD market, I was asked to provide insight into our company’s experience with ALDs. Our company has been selling ALDs for more than 20 years, and has an extensive customer base that includes deaf and hard-of-hearing people, caregivers, service agencies, as well as a large dealer network.

Many of our company’s dealers are hearing health care professionals who have found benefits to providing ALDs to their patients. Robert Harris, PhD, the founder and president of Harris Communications, makes these observations, “We are privileged to enjoy working with a large network of audiologists as dealers in supplying ALDs to expand their product line. Those dealers with excellent sales in ALDs are hearing health care professionals who believe in educating their patients about the importance of [these technologies] to help them hear better in a wide variety of settings regardless of whether they currently have hearing aids.”

Furthermore, Harris notes, “The chances for hearing health care professionals in closing hearing aid sales are tremendously enhanced, if they educate their patients from the beginning about the benefits they may derive from getting the ALDs to begin with. Such ALDs, to name a few, are TV listeners, wake-up alarm clocks, amplified phones, and pocketalkers/personal FM, or infrared transmitters and receivers.”

Educate Patients
Another consideration to educating patients about ALDs is safety. According to Bill Williams, Harris Communications’ national sales manager, “One thing that is often forgotten is that hearing aids are taken off at night. There are definite safety issues to having ALDs available for those times the hearing aids are not worn. A patient being able to hear (or be alerted to) the smoke detector, the clock, the doorbell, or the telephone in times of emergencies should be taken into consideration by all professionals who provide hearing health care services. For those patients with severe hearing loss, a loud alarm isn’t the only solution. There are products that can visually alert them, such as with a flashing strobe, or alert them by vibration, such as a bed shaker.”

Our company has had plenty of experience assisting customers with different degrees of hearing loss—-some who wear hearing aids and some who do not. Many customers who come in do not think they have a hearing loss, but want a product to help them hear the TV more clearly, or hear better on the phone. Customers have been pleasantly surprised when they hear well using an ALD. It is often the first indication that they have been missing out on some things and may need help with their hearing loss. This realization can be the first step in overcoming the denial that accompanies hearing loss.

Our sales staff encounters many customers who wear hearing aids, but are unfamiliar with ALDs. These customers are generally grateful for finding these products but do not understand why they were not told about ALDs by their hearing health professional. Since ALDs are not common devices, there is an expectation that the hearing health care professional, besides fitting them with a hearing aid, would also let them know about additional products that would assist them in hearing.

In the past few years, more companies have been selling ALDs, and there have been some dramatic increases in the quality and number of these technologies available. According to Williams, “In the past few years, phone amplification levels have gone from 30 dB to 50 dB—this has greatly increased the number of people who are able to use amplified phones.” The number of ALDs has its benefits, but it also creates some confusion for those who may not know the best ALD to use. Many off-brands are available that do not provide the sound quality that the patient needs. A hearing health care professional who is familiar with ALDs can make recommendations for particular patients based on knowing both the customer and the ALD.

The Proper ALD for the Patient
There are many ways for a hearing health care provider to offer ALDs to patients. Contacting a company that sells ALDs will let the provider find out the available options. Becoming a dealer enables you to profit from the sale of the ALD, but also refer patients to a reputable ALD distributor who can assist them with their needs.

Providing literature or catalogs to patients lets them know what is available and gives them an ability to review products for themselves. The ALD distributor should be able to advise you or your patient with specific product recommendations.

Ideally, if there is available space, a showroom with a select number of ALDs would help patients familiarize themselves with the products—and actually try them out. If you publicize the showroom or these products, you also can bring in additional business from people who would like some hearing assistance but do not feel they are ready for a hearing aid.

Educating patients about ALDs does not have to be time-consuming or expensive, and it builds relationships while letting patients know that you are interested in all their hearing health care needs. For patients in denial, an ALD may be the first step in realizing a hearing loss and starting a relationship with a hearing health care professional. For patients who want the added security when they are not wearing hearing aids, being able to discuss ALDs with a hearing health care professional saves them the time and frustration of sorting out what ALD is right for them.

Now is an excellent time to offer ALDs to your patients and start building relationships that will help increase sales and future referrals.

Lori Foss is the marketing director for Harris Communications, Eden Prairie, Minn.