To achieve overall success in the growth of the hearing health care industry, we must navigate the current sea of change analytically, with careful planning, precision, and dedicated problem solving.

The hearing care field is at a fascinating point in its history. Technological developments are accelerating almost too quickly to follow, and paradoxically, our science has matured to the point where only now do we recognize the vast number of research questions that still remain to be answered. The size of the hearing-impaired population is about to explode, and its demographics are changing in a way that will test our current products, services, and delivery models. All of these challenges provide opportunities for success among the stakeholders in our field: hearing aid companies, dispensing professionals, researchers, and consumers. But to achieve success for everyone—for our field to grow and succeed as a whole—this turbulent sea of change in which we find ourselves will have to be navigated with the precision that comes from careful planning, analysis, and dedicated problem solving. Ideally, a course must be charted that everyone can navigate.

Researchers at the Starkey Hearing Research Center in Berkeley, Calif, invited more than a dozen of the hearing aid field’s leading thinkers to join them at a 2-day meeting to identify the direction our industry should take. Joining the group were top R&D audiologists and engineers from Starkey Laboratories (a complete list of attendees can be found beneath the group photo below). All attendees had extensive knowledge of the most pressing research issues facing us, and of the practical challenges facing dispensing professionals and hearing aid wearers.

Brent Edwards, PhD, is the executive director of the Starkey Hearing Research Center, Berkeley, Calif.

The top challenges were identified by vetting candidate topics with attendees before the meeting, called the 2007 Clinical Research Summit. Six topics were chosen as being among the most critical to the future, and areas that could reasonably be addressed over the next 5 years. An agenda was set for roundtable discussions on each of these topics, with all attendees participating.

The summit took place at the Carneros Inn in Napa Valley, Calif, January 19 to 20. Each of the chosen topics embodies issues that will require years of effort from multiple stakeholders to resolve; there were no illusions that we would “solve” any of these problems at the summit. Instead, our objective was to identify major issues to be addressed and research questions to be answered that would meet the challenges of each critical topic. The outcomes of these roundtable discussions are detailed in the following articles from this special section of The Hearing Review.

The six topics are outlined below, followed by the names of the session moderators.

  • Why does hearing aid benefit measured in the clinic often differ from benefit experienced by hearing aid wearers in the real world? Can we align the two to better meet the needs of the hearing impaired? Mary Cord, PhD; Walter Reed Army Medical Center; Washington, DC.
  • How can we better comprehend individual differences in speech understanding ability and subsequently provide improved individualized hearing solutions based on measures of cochlear damage, psychoacoustic performance, and cognitive function? Peggy Nelson, PhD; University of Minnesota; Minneapolis.
  • How can our field implement evidence-based practice and evidence-based design such that dispensing professionals can more effectively meet the needs of their patients? Ruth Bentler, PhD; University of Iowa; Ames.
  • Participants in the 2007 Clinical Research Summit, top row: Terri Shapiro, Jon Kindred, Cheryl Eiler, Harry Levitt, Benjamin Hornsby, Mary Cord, Brian Moore, Brent Edwards, Michael Valente, Bill Woods, Kelly Fitz, Tim Trine, Brandon Sawalich. Bottom row: Arthur Boothroyd, Ruth Bentler, Jennifer Henderson-Sabes, Jerry Yanz, Hedwig Gockel, Harvey Abrams, Robert Sweetow, Sheila Moodie, Deb Corti, Sergei Kochkin, Deniz Baskent, Peggy Nelson, Laurel Olson, Sridhar Kalluri.
  • What are the challenges that must be addressed for wireless technology to reach its full potential for patient benefit? Arthur Boothroyd, PhD; City University of New York, and House Ear Institute; Los Angeles.
  • How can our field optimize its use of aural rehabilitation in the hearing health care process? Robert Sweetow, PhD; University of California; San Francisco.
  • What challenges from changing patient demographics, changing technology, and changing market expectations are faced by the hearing health care delivery model? Harvey Abrams, PhD; Department of Veterans Affairs Audiology Unit; Bay Pines, Fla.

The discussions were lively, and there was surprising agreement among attendees on what the critical issues were. Informal discussions continued through lunch and dinner, and the summit ended with a planning session for writing consensus position papers reiterating key points.

The six papers in this special section summarize our consensus on each topic. For efficiency, each paper was written by a subset of the attendees, although the opinions expressed represent those of the whole group. The session leaders, identified above, were also the lead writers and are indicated as first authors of each paper.

Several issues were raised repeatedly across different sessions: the changing demographics of the hearing impaired, the role of cognition in hearing, the need to expand our definition of the hearing health care process, the impact of individual differences, and the need to address individual differences at each stage of the patient journey.

What was clear by the end of the summit was that there is opportunity for everyone in the hearing health care field—audiologists, hearing instrument specialists, university and industry researchers, and hearing aid companies—to meet the challenges facing us and contribute to the achievement of success in the industry. We hope that the following six papers provide a road map.

Correspondence can be addressed to HR or Brent Edwards, Starkey Hearing Research Center, 2150 Shattuck Ave, Ste 408, Berkeley, CA 94704; e-mail: .