TuerkInterton, an independent hearing aid manufacturer established in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany, recently increased its US presence by acquiring the operations of Authorized Hearing Systems (AHS), Plymouth, Minn, and renaming the company Interton/AHS. HR sat down with Hellmuth J. Tuerk, cofounder and CEO of Interton, to discuss the industry and future technologies.

Q. What are the most important products at Interton?

A: We concentrate on the core business, namely the manufacturing and marketing of advanced hearing aids. Our chip development is important, followed closely by software development. We take pride in our achievements, but this does not mean that we are resting on our laurels. To stay competitive, we must constantly stretch the envelope by adding new products and features, and improving the ones we already have.

Q. What will hearing aids of the future be like?

A: Clearly, the future of hearing aids is in digital signal processing (DSP). DSP allows the manipulation of sound in ways never before imagined, so that as we better understand the hearing mechanism and what happens when it fails, we can provide better solutions. And it is interesting that, along with the tremendous advances in electronics and DSP technology, we are able to miniaturize these advances for use in the smallest of hearing aids. Digital signal processing in hearing aids can be described as a quantum leap in technology.

Q. Will digital hearing aids force analog hearing aids out of the market completely?

A: No, a digital hearing instrument is not appropriate for everyone. There will always be a market for conventional analog products, but the market share for digitals is currently 23% and rising. This trend will continue because digitals are just so much more versatile.

Q. What are the key factors for long-term success in the industry?

A: In order to be successful in the long run, you must have competent people working in a variety of specialties, from development engineers to quality assurance personnel to customer service representatives.

Q. What factors are decisive for you in international hearing aid sales?

A: Good contacts, reliable marketing structures, and interesting pricing.

Q. What defines the quality of a hearing aid for you?

A: Quality can be described both in terms of manufacturing and in terms of end user benefit. What it comes down to is how much benefit our products provide to those with hearing loss. While we still have much to learn about the impaired hearing mechanism, it is clear that an accurate representation of the speech signal, appropriately modified to the needs of the individual, is vital to end user benefit. DSP allows us not only much flexibility in terms of tailoring sounds for maximum benefit, but it also allows us to incorporate new signal processing strategies that can be developed once more is known about the nature of hearing loss.

Q. What are the limits of technology when it comes to compensating for hearing loss?

A: As much as I would like to say otherwise, a hearing aid will never be able to restore hearing perfectly to someone with hearing loss. However, there is no doubt that hearing aids are effective in providing assistance and improving the quality of life of those with hearing impairment. This is especially true when the loss is binaural. There was a time when doctors and other professionals discouraged hearing aid use for those with nerve-type hearing loss, but those days are long gone. Hearing aids help people, and they are getting better every day.