Rechargeable Hearing Aid Preferences: Survey Findings



Author: David Copithorne
Reprinted with permission from HearingTracker.com. Click here to access the original article at HearingTracker.com

Consumers are warming up to the idea of using rechargeable hearing aid batteries in place of the disposable zinc-air batteries required by most modern hearing devices. According to a recent Hearing Tracker survey, new rechargeable technologies – that provide longer battery life in smaller packages – are leading many hearing aid consumers to consider making the switch.

Hearing Tracker conducted the 600+ participant survey of consumers and hearing health professionals after two industry leaders, Phonak and Signia, each announced upcoming hearing aid models with built-in rechargeable batteries. Their announcements followed closely after the introduction of a retrofit rechargeable hearing aid battery product, ZPower, that is compatible with several popular models of typically non-rechargeable hearing aids. All the new products provide more than a day of use before recharging is required—clearing a battery-life hurdle that until now has held back many buyers from considering rechargeable technologies.

Disclosure: ZPower helped fund our survey with the goal of better understanding what features are most important to hearing aid users and how they would use rechargeable battery technologies. But Hearing Tracker conducted the blind survey independently and is publishing the results in its own independent report. This blog post provides an initial summary overview of the findings.


Rechargeable hearing aid batteries have been available for a long time. So why haven’t they caught on with consumers until now? In the past, there have been problems with short battery life, limiting form factors, and inconsistent power output. Our survey, the first to provide comprehensive data on what features are important and why, provides timely perspective for consumers and hearing healthcare providers considering adoption of rechargeable hearing aid technologies.

Survey Results
Of the 510 hearing-aid owners who responded to the survey, 89% said their aids use non-rechargeable disposable batteries. But 70% said they would prefer rechargeable hearing aids, with 62% preferring hearing aids that could use either removable rechargeable batteries or standard non-rechargeable disposable batteries, and 8% indicating preference for rechargeable-only hearing aids:

Which type of battery would you prefer for your hearing aids?


However, users made it clear they also need their rechargeable hearing aids to meet the one-day-per-charge test. When asked to rate on a scale of one-to-five the importance of a “full day of power on a single charge,” the average response was near the top 4.72:



“Audiologists and other hearing health professionals have understood the benefits of rechargeable technologies for a long time, but they have been waiting for technology to catch up with the needs of users demanding longer battery life in smaller form factors,” said Abram Bailey, AuD, founder of Hearing Tracker. “Our survey data confirms users prefer rechargeable options and provides an optimistic outlook for acceptance of the new rechargeable hearing aid products that are finally starting to meet those threshold requirements.”

The New Products Coming to Market Utilize Different Technologies to Deliver the Performance Customers Want
ZPOWER BATTERY
ZPower offers a retrofit rechargeable solution for many existing hearing aid models. The standard battery compartment on your existing hearing aids is replaced with a chargeable compartment, and sold with rechargeable silver-zinc batteries and a charger unit. ZPower is compatible with hearing aids from brands like Siemens, Phonak, Resound, and Beltone.

PHONAK AUDÉO B-R
Phonak recently announced the upcoming (August 2016) release of the Audéo B-R, touted as “the first mainstream lithium-ion rechargeable hearing aid.” Phonak claims the new Audéo B-R will last 24 hours on full charge, including up to 80 minutes of wireless streaming. The new product is built on “Belong,” the newest processing platform from Phonak. Phonak mini charger shown.

SIGNIA CELLION PRIMAX
Also due for release later this month, the Cellion primax is billed as “the only inductive, wireless and contact-free chargeable hearing aid in the world.” Apparently one-upping Phonak on operating time, Cellion primax claims it can run for “at least 24 hours with unlimited streaming.” Both the Audeo B-R and the Cellion primax have sealed battery doors.

Hearing aid providers are clearly on the same wavelength as their patients. Of the audiologists and other hearing health professionals who completed the survey, fewer than half (47%) said they currently fit rechargeable hearing aids, but 82% said they plan on selling new rechargeable products in the future.

The hearing aid providers also indicated they would like to see broad availability of rechargeable solutions. When asked to rate on a scale of one-to-five the importance of availability “across multiple platforms, both in technology and in price," the average response was near the top at 4.50:
Available across multiple platforms, both in technology and in price



Both providers and consumers indicated a strong preference for backup solutions enabling constant use of the hearing aids, without downtime for recharging during the day. Therefore, long battery life was a requirement for both groups, with a majority of providers indicating that, when the rechargeable battery loses power, they prefer the ability to use a disposable battery to get power instantly rather than a hearing aid with a built-in rechargeable battery, even one with a fast 30-minute charge:

Which option do you think your patients would prefer to regain power, if their rechargeable hearing aids lost power at an inconvenient time?



Consumers also made it clear in their comments they are ready for those and other features of rechargeable hearing aid batteries:
It’s easier to carry a couple of disposable batteries than a charger.

I don’t know if I would have 30 minutes to spare for a recharge in an emergency situation.

I would like to be served with options. In case of failure of the rechargeable battery I want to have the option to use the disposable batteries. I use hearing aids all the time and I prefer to always have a back plan.

No one wants to put their life on hold for any length of time so a battery can charge.

I don’t have time to wait around for the battery to recharge. Especially at work.

And for hearing-aid providers, perhaps the best news came from the response to the question: “If you could purchase a system to make your current hearing aids rechargeable, which of the following suppliers would you prefer?” The answer from 61% of consumers? “Your hearing health provider.”






Clearly, the time is right for broader and faster acceptance of rechargeable hearing aid technologies. We are continuing to analyze the results from the Hearing Tracker survey on rechargeable hearing aid battery technologies, so visit HearingTracker.com for more news and insight.    
David Copithorne has been blogging about hearing issues for a long time. As someone who has progressed from mild to profound hearing loss, he has had a chance to experience almost everything that the hearing industry has to offer. He currently utilizes cochlear implants in both ears. Read more of David’s musings at the Hearing Mojo blog (http://hearingmojo.com).
Audiology Practices Feedback Regarding Rechargeable Hearing Aid Preferences
Audiology Practices reached out to its readers for their opinions regarding rechargeable hearing aids.

AP: What are your general thoughts on the use of rechargeable hearing aid batteries?
Our patients don’t ask for rechargeable batteries so much as they express their disdain for having to change the batteries every week to week and a half. However, I also feel that rechargeable hearing aids are moving in the right direction in terms of being environmentally friendly. I think that this feature will help attract the younger, tech savvy population with hearing loss that avoid hearing aids due to the stigma associated with them that only seniors wear them. This technology will also benefit part of the geriatric population that has dexterity issues.

AP: Have you discovered any barriers to use?
For the most part, no. The only hesitancy patients have is with the additional cost (even though it is minor).

AP: We specifically understand that some manufacturers have stated that their warranties will be void if a third-party rechargeable battery is used by the provider or patient. Have you been advised to that effect? Yes. When I asked a manufacturer’s rep what they have heard about ZPower, our team was told that installation and use of the technology would completely void the warranty.

AP: Why did you ultimately decide not to try ZPower? Why did you decide to go with the Phonak product?
We discussed providing ZPower, as it came out before the Phonak product, but ultimately decided not to because the manufacturer technology seemed to be on the horizon. We also got cold feet because no manufacturer would endorse ZPower as a product they recommend using.
— Nicholas Parmer, Au.D., Traverse City, MI

AP: What are your general thoughts on the use of rechargeable hearing aid batteries?
There is definitely a demand for a rechargeable hearing aid. Hand dexterity and deteriorated vision are conditions many of our patients have that make using a traditional hearing aid (with batteries) more challenging, if not impossible, to use. For example, I fit my grandpa with hearing aids last month, just before the Phonak rechargeable was released. My grandpa suffers from macular degeneration along with hand dexterity issues so opening the battery door to turn the hearing aid off or to change batteries is difficult for him.

AP: Do you currently use them in your practice?
Our practice has already sold several pairs of the new Phonak B90-R devices. Patients are excited to have the rechargeable option.

AP: Which other products have you specifically considered?
I was very excited when I first heard about ZPower. However, we weren’t able to work with them because certain manufacturers put the word out that warranties would be voided if the ZPower was installed on their hearing aids. I was told at some point that Phonak was in the process of approving the use of ZPower but it’s been a few months since I got an update on that. It’s great that Phonak has their new rechargeable aid, but many patients would be excited to retrofit their current hearing aids with the ZPower solution if it was approved and accepted by the hearing aid manufacturers.

AP: Have you discovered any barriers to use?
The only barriers, at this point, that exist are uncertainty. As with any new technology, my main concern is if the rechargeable hearing aids been thoroughly tested. The rechargeable aid has no battery that can be accessed by the patient or the dispenser. I’m told the rechargeable hearing aid battery will last the life of the device.
— Billy T. Crooks, HAS, Naples, FL
Pamela Burton, Au.D., Vice President Customer Care & Product Management at Signia USA (formerly Siemens Hearing Instruments) was also asked some questions about the rising popularity of rechargeable hearing aid batteries.

AP: Several years ago Siemens introduced the first rechargeable hearing instrument; please tell us how the new Signia rechargeable product differs from the earlier versions?
Signia has been the leader in rechargeability for the last 10 years, delivering convenience to people with vision or dexterity limitations with instruments that enable changing batteries once a year instead of once a week. The benefits of these devices for users and the environment have been widely realized by wearers and providers alike. The new generation of rechargeable hearing aids has come to life with our revolutionary Cellion primax device, the world’s first hearing aid with lithium-ion inductive charging. Unlike previous NiMH galvanic charging, the new Cellion primax with lithium-ion inductive charging provides a more reliable charging system—no need to align contacts, and more importantly, more energy efficient with longer lasting charge that delivers 24-hours of use with each charge, even while streaming continuously. In addition, Cellion batteries last for several years, so Cellion features an elegant unique OneShell design with an IP-68 rating. With Cellion primax, Signia introduces a product where wearers never have to change batteries.

AP: What recent technology breakthrough(s) lead to the improvement in rechargeable hearing aid battery performance?
The signal processing from Signia primax has an exceptionally efficient power management. Even with all the advanced signal processing features of primax, using our highest power RIC receivers AND streaming continuously, Cellion rechargeable instruments provide at least 24 hours of use on a single charge. This is unlike similar rechargeable instruments in the market, which significantly limit the amount of streaming and/or power use before requiring charging.

AP: What has been the reception of clinicians since you introduced the new product with rechargeable capability?
Cellion will start shipping in mid-October. Customers who have used this revolutionary technology during our field trials are very excited and eagerly waiting to offer Cellion’s audiological advantages and convenience to their patients. Cellion works with all Signia’s wireless accessories and apps, including the popular Touch Control App, and it delivers on t-coil and CROS or BiCROS requirements. Cellion primax offers multiple usability features—instruments can be placed in the charger in either slot, left or right, and turn on automatically when removed from the charger. Most importantly, with no batteries to change it makes life simple for the wearer.
— Pamela Burton, Au.D.