Go Figure: The Most Desirable Features Consumers Want When Purchasing Hearing Aids

The data shown in this Figure was compiled by Dr. Abram Bailey, founder and owner of Hearing Tracker.com, a website that helps consumers find and rate hearing aids and professional services. The Figure was posted on social media by Dr. Bailey in July 2019 and given the immense sample size (over 10,000 respondents) and relevant information, it captured the attention of many clinicians.

Note that the survey asks consumers to rate their preferences, not what they think is important or necessary, for successful hearing aid use. Although it’s a subtle difference, asking consumers to rate their preferences gives us an unfiltered look at what consumers desire from hearing aids. Even a glimpse of the data shown in this Figure suggests a primary role of the clinician is to educate the individual about what hearing aid features are likely to contribute to their long-term success – even when those features might not be preferred by the consumer - after a comprehensive assessment has been completed. After all, what a consumer might prefer is not always what is most likely to enable the individual to receive optimal hearing aid benefit.

Since the data in the Figure is applicable to clinical practice, but did nott have any commentary supporting it when it was posted on social media, we contacted Dr. Bailey and asked him to elaborate on the data he collected and compiled in the Figure.

AP: Please tell us about why and how you collected this data?

AB: In 2018, Hearing Tracker launched a software engine that attempts to match hearing aid consumers with specific hearing aid models and accessories, based on each consumer’s specific hearing needs and listening priorities. In order to provide meaningful product recommendations to an individual consumer, the matching engine gathers information using a 24-question survey, which asks the consumer to rate the importance of outcomes like an “improved ability to hear friends and family in noisy environments” and an “ability to access audio broadcasted by hearing loops.” Since the engine was launched in mid-2018, more than 10,000 consumers have completed the survey.

AP: Let’s examine the top four most preferred consumer preferences on the left side of the Figure. Why do you think those four attributes were rated to be, on average, the most preferred?

AB: Better hearing in quiet and in noise, product reliability, and physical comfort seem to be the most universal priorities for those that take our survey. This really is an unsurprising finding in that these four attributes really underscore what a hearing aid should provide, at minimum, to allow the product to provide baseline hearing assistance and be wearable (comfortable) on an ongoing basis (reliable).

AP: Now, let’s look at the right side of the Figure. Why do you think attributes such as landline audio streaming, hearing loop access and smartwatch control were by and large rated to be much less preferred?

AB: Let me provide a little context on these attributes. In our survey, we provide helpful tips next to each question to ensure consumers are sufficiently educated before providing an importance rating. As an example, on our question about hearing loop access, we provide the following tip: “A built-in hearing aid telecoil is required to pick up audio broadcasted by hearing loops. Hearing loops are often installed in auditoriums and other meeting places.” So, why doesn’t this hint lead consumers to rate “ability to access audio broadcasted by hearing loops” as important? I have been told that learning about a hearing loop and experiencing a hearing loop are two entirely different things, and so it doesn’t really come as a surprise to me that most consumers don’t see the benefit after reading this brief explanation of the benefits. I think the same logic applies to remote microphones being ranked as lower priority for most consumers. As audiologists, we understand the value of telecoils and remote microphones for improving speech understanding, but sometimes it can be difficult to make our patients understand these benefits without experiencing the benefits first-hand. Therefore, one take-away for clinicians might be to conduct a demonstration of these features for patients who could benefit from them.

Regarding landline audio streaming and smartwatch control, my guess is that these priorities fared poorly due to either being connected to devices that are either going out of fashion (landlines) or being connected to devices that haven’t found mainstream market appeal yet (smartwatches). Another hypothesis for landline audio streaming is that the benefit is (like hearing loop access) too esoteric for the average consumer to understand. Or maybe the respondents simply haven’t experienced poor hearing on a landline with hearing aids. Prospective hearing aid users probably have no idea what to expect from the phone, and many experienced hearing aid users can use the landline successfully thanks to technologies like telecoil induction and binaural audio streaming.

AP: There are a few attributes such as mobile audio streaming, TV streaming and rechargeability in which there are roughly equal numbers of respondents rating the attribute important compared to not important. Please explain what it means for clinicians.

AB: Intake surveys are an important tool, and I think in today’s world, it’s more important than ever to understand your patients’ listening needs, hearing priorities, and accessory needs prior to making any hearing aid recommendations. Taking the example of rechargeability, clinicians need to know when to recommend rechargeable hearing aids based on circumstances like poor vision or poor dexterity, but I also think it’s important to educate each patient (regardless of obvious need) on the pros and cons of rechargeable hearing aid technology to allow them to be active participants in the hearing aid selection process. Our survey shows that you can make no assumptions when it comes to technologies like rechargeability, so the clinician should never assume that these fantastic new technologies are for everyone.

AP: What are your thoughts on the best way clinicians can use this information with respect to selecting and fitting hearing aids?

AB: The information from our matching engine shows that consumers are not alike in their preferences. Some preferences can be considered almost a given: who doesn’t want to hear better in quiet and in noise with their new hearing aids? But other technologies are polarizing, and it pays to identify your patients’ priorities through targeted patient-centered care. I think the results of our survey also suggest that clinicians may want to spend additional time educating and counseling on topics like hearing loops and remote microphones before accepting a patient’s lack of willingness to benefit from such technologies.

AP: How might consumers use this information when seeking to purchase hearing aids?

AB: I’m not sure how these results are beneficial to consumers, other than maybe validating a consumer’s preferences, or indicating where a consumer may need to investigate their own assumptions about some technology that they have already written off. My suggestion to consumers is to take the survey, learn from our educational question format, and take a moment to try to understand our provided rationale for the hearing aid matches we make. For each feature or accessory that the engine recommends, justification is provided within the context of the consumer’s own hearing priorities. These justifications were painstakingly composed to help provide further education as to how specific hearing aid technologies are relevant to the hearing priorities of each individual consumer.