By Karl Strom, HR editor-in-chief

The second installation of EuroTrak, published in this month’s edition of HR, offers some very interesting Karl Strom
insights into the global hearing aid market, while providing a distant mirror for US dispensing activities. EuroTrak I, published in February 2011 HR, looked at hearing aid use in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom during 2009, and offered a comprehensive overview of factors such as market penetration, pediatric fittings, third-party payors, and in-the-drawer aids—often comparing these metrics to the US-based MarkeTrak surveys, which are also published in HR. Both EuroTrak surveys were authored by Søren Hougaard, secretary general of the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (EHIMA), and (whenever possible) were carefully modeled on questionnaires and methodologies of MarkeTrak. This month’s EuroTrak + JapanTrak 2012 is an extension of EuroTrak I, expanding its focus to include Norway, Italy, Switzerland, and Japan, and poses many new questions—several of which focus on the possible societal and personal benefits of hearing aid use.

Compared to the United States, Europe remains a much more diverse region relative to hearing aid use due to its differing levels/eligibility of government subsidies for hearing aids, dispensing groups (eg, acousticians, ENTs, retailers), as well as the preferences of European consumers, to name a few factors. The same holds true for the dramatically different market of Japan, which contains one of the world’s largest populations of seniors (by percentage) and also has some public subsidies for hearing aids, which are sold in a larger variety of places—ranging from eyewear and watch outlets, to pharmacies and department stores. A couple of the many items that caught my attention included:

Market penetration. In general, the percentages of people with self-admitted hearing loss who own hearing aids are highest in those countries that offer more generous/ubiquitous public subsidies for the devices. Norway, the UK, and Switzerland (42.5%, 41.1%, and 38.8% market penetration, respectively) lead the pack, followed by Germany and France (34.0% and 30.4%). However, it’s obvious that government subsidies don’t tell the entire story. Italy and the United States have identical market penetration rates (24.6%), while Japan trails with 14.1%.

Customer satisfaction. Overall satisfaction with hearing aids in the United States in 2008 was reported by MarkeTrak VIII to be 74%. This month’s EuroTrak + JapanTrak 2012 reports higher customer satisfaction rates for Switzerland and France (84% and 80%, respectively), and rates more similar to those in the United States for Germany (77%), the UK and Norway (72%), and Italy (70%). Customer satisfaction in Japan was dramatically lower (36%). It should be noted that the US market has experienced a sea change relative to BTE hearing aid use in the last 4 years—an increase from 57% in 2008 to 71% in 2012. While there is no current timetable for the publication of MarkeTrak IX, the 2008 survey did suggest that the mini- and open-fit BTE revolution, which includes RIC/RITE devices, may be having a positive effect on customer satisfaction.

Physician/GP education. In virtually every country, one of the primary stumbling blocks for consumers obtaining hearing help is a lack of positive recommendations/referrals from family doctors and ENTs.

And there’s much more to glean from these surveys. EuroTrak and MarkeTrak provide us with excellent information and insights for overcoming the many obstacles in hearing care and how we might do more to improve quality of life for people with hearing loss.

Addendum & Correction. An industry friend emailed me regarding the January 2013 Staff Standpoint article (“Start Your Engines…”), which focused on trends in hearing aid technology platforms and styles during the past 30+ years. While noting that I did cover the rapid rise to prominence of RIC/RITE hearing aids, he politely pointed out that I’d failed to mention Vivatone’s contribution to this trend. Launched by Natan Bauman, EdD, in early 2008, the Vivatone hearing aid might be considered the first modern open-fit RIC—a product category that now constitutes a large portion of US hearing aid sales (RICs were 45% of the market in 2012). There are a lot of perils in summarizing 3 decades of hearing industry technology in a 1-page editorial, and I knew that I was setting myself up for some justifiable criticism. Additionally, upon re-examining the figure in the article, I realized that the unit volume graphics displayed are for the US private-sector (non-VA) and not the total market (ie, private market and VA). I apologize for these oversights.