Insights from the Outside: A New Look at Today’s Hearing Healthcare Patients – Active Agers 55+

Insights from the Outside is a group of practicing clinicians — owners from multiple healthcare disciplines including dentistry, audiology, ophthalmology and veterinary medicine. Uniquely created by CareCredit, the group’s purpose is to capture and share “best practices” to some of the common challenges all healthcare business owners face, such as attracting new patients, patient barriers to care, care acceptance, patient retention, social media, team training and empowerment, and much more. Recently, the panel reached out to leading experts in various fields such as branding and marketing asking them to share their knowledge as it relates to the hearing healthcare industry. In this article Jeff Weiss, President and CEO of Age of Majority, a marketing agency and consultancy that specializes in Active Aging consumers, shares insights into how businesses can optimize opportunity with these valuable and often overlooked consumers.

There are a lot of myths and stereotypes about who the typical hearing device wearer is, how old they are, what they look like, etc. You’ve recently completed some research on this topic, can you share some of those findings?

Weiss: Absolutely. We began by trying to get a sense of behavior. So, the first thing we asked was how often are you getting your hearing checked. We surveyed men and women from across the country, Active Agers who are 55+, and our results show that 14% of Active Agers have their hearing checked annually and 30% have their hearing checked every few years*. It’s probably not surprising that men are more likely to get their hearing checked than women. In fact, they're twice as likely to have their hearing checked every year.

Is the prevalence of men having their hearing checked more often due to the professions they may be in or are there other contributing factors?

Weiss:Based on what I’ve read there isn’t a real definitive answer to that question as of yet. A lot of it does appear to be related to occupation or lifestyle. Men tend to be in workplaces where there are much louder noises so that’s what they think may be causing the difference.

What other results did your survey reveal?

Weiss:Additional findings include that about a quarter of people we surveyed have never had their hearing checked. The reasons cited for this were they “don’t think a hearing check-up is needed,” and they “don’t have the money to pay for hearing care.” Of the 14% of Active Agers who get their hearing checked annually — 19% of them have been diagnosed with hearing loss and out of those about a third have gotten a prescription*. As you start going through the numbers — how many people get checked (14%), how many of those people are diagnosed (19%), how many of those people are prescribed (20%)* — you see the bigger picture that very few patients end up with prescribed hearing devices.

I believe the market and the providers would agree with you. Patients who are tested but not treated are actually quite common. For some reason — maybe it’s the stigma of wearing hearing aids or maybe because of cost — these patients don’t move forward with actually getting the help they need from a device perspective. Have you found that in your research as well?

Weiss:Yes, you are absolutely right. Even when you look at the people that have hearing aids, only 44% of those individuals we surveyed, wear them all the time*. That’s less than half. When you consider the numbers, I’ve heard 80% of people who need hearing aids don’t get them*, and then you see that the majority of those who do get them, don’t wear them regularly, you have to wonder why people aren’t wearing them all the time. People in our survey said various things from, “they don’t help,” and “the batteries aren’t that great,” to “they’re too expensive to wear every day” and “I’ve lost them”. So, there are a lot of reasons patients don’t wear hearing devices including stigmas and stereotypes about hearing aid wearers.

Did your research reveal anything more about how patients feel about hearing devices?

Weiss:Absolutely, and the good news is that about three quarters of all respondents said the benefits of wearing hearing aids outweighed the negatives and outweighed the stereotypes. The bad news is that about 40% believe wearing hearing aids make you look and feel old. That’s just one of those lingering perceptions that continues to exist. As soon as you say “you need a hearing device” it’s interpreted to mean because you’re old. And that’s the kiss of death. It’s the biggest stigma that is focused on when it comes to hearing aids. In addition to that 30% of respondents say that hearing devices are ugly.

Overcoming the reasons why people don’t want to wear hearing devices has been an issue in the industry for many years. First to get the patient to realize that they need a hearing aid, or something to help their hearing and then once they do purchase, to get them to wear them. Were you able to uncover any insights that may help with that challenge?

Weiss:A lot of it falls on the manufacturers. For example, when we asked, how can more people be encouraged to wear recommended hearing devices, 88% of respondents suggested smaller and invisible product design in devices and we are starting see more of those. Better sound quality, that’s something that is also already improving a lot. Three quarters say more stylish design and colors to reflect different skin tones. I think that is a big, big opportunity. You know you think about eye wear, which still has some stigma, but if you think about the great job that a lot of these eyewear companies and glass companies do, in terms of making stylish designs, I’m not sure why that can’t happen in the hearing aid industry as well. When it comes to technology, 71% of respondents say better connectivity to devices through Bluetooth would really encourage more people to embrace hearing devices*. Again, we are starting to see more of that as well. At the end the day when you look at how hearing aids are marketed and sold, a lot of it is just functionally. The reality is consumers want to know how this is going to help my lifestyle. That’s what providers need to focus on. Yes, hearing aids are going to help you hear better, but what does that mean? It means I can have better relationships with my partner, my family and my friends. Focusing on the lifestyle benefits, that’s where the big opportunity is and that’s what providers need to communicate to overcome the stigmas that are out there.

Another area that I am sure your research has been exploring is the cost factor. What affect has the recent pandemic specifically and economic conditions in general had on the older consumer’s financial situation? Are you finding that they are more cost conscious?

Weiss:People who are 55+ account for 40% of all consumer spending*. Now obviously there are people of every age and generation that struggle with finances. But again, one of our myths’ is “Don’t forget about my senior discount.” The reality is that older consumers have more money than anybody else. However, we did ask questions recently in our COVID-19 survey related to financial wellbeing and 25% of Active Agers are very or extremely concerned about their finances*. We did that study back in June of 2020 and while things are changing every day — people are looking at their portfolios if they’ve got investments, and it’s been kind of a roller coaster ride. Some people have been laid off or let go so they have less money coming in. But many Active Agers are still kind of stay the course or not concerned at all.

It’s also important to remember Active Agers want to stay as active as they can, and they are willing to spend money on things in order to be active. That’s everything from healthier food which can cost more money to home renovations like an in-home gym. In fact, over half of all dollars spent on home renovations are done by Active Agers who are 55+*. So, in general, Active Agers are willing to spend money on their health. We shouldn’t assume that they don’t have the money or don’t want to spend the money — particularly on hearing aids.

Even though many Active Aging consumers have money to spend on their healthcare needs, and some have Medicare or private insurance — many of them still have out-of-pocket costs that are not covered when it comes to hearing healthcare. That’s why I think it’s important to have different payment options available like the CareCredit healthcare credit card. I think it’s also just as important for providers not to stereotype and present payment options to everyone. You never know who might be interested in getting hearing aids but would prefer to pay over time.

How can providers take the data and information provided in your survey results and proactively use it to benefit their practice? Are there a couple of things you would suggest?

Weiss:Absolutely. You know we asked some questions in our survey this week — specifically around what can practices do better, and you know the first is to offer more telehealth services. We asked people, what percentage of you have used telehealth and nearly 40% of the respondents are using it now*. So, again if someone has the belief that the active aging population is computer shy or thinks “no I want to see my doctor in person” it’s more myth than fact. We are in different times now and a lot of people are using telehealth and loving it. And the people that aren’t using it, many of them say that they would consider using it in the future. So, in terms of what providers can do, the first thing that our survey said is to offer more telehealth services, with almost 60% of them saying that is something that they would like to have as an option now*. Not surprisingly with the recent pandemic, better social distancing was important. Over a third of people surveyed mentioned it as a concern when going to the doctor’s office. But it’s not just about social distancing, people want to understand how the doctors are handling, and how the offices are handling the overall visit. Including wearing masks, what’s the doctor going to be wearing. If I am getting blood taken, what is the procedure, etc.

Other insights include offering more weekend and evening appointments. This is really about flexibility but over 30% of people mentioned it*. Obviously, some practices can offer this and other may not be able to. Another answer was insuring on time visits. People don’t want to sit around waiting, so on time visits are really important. We also asked what practices can do to better connect with their audiences. Improving electronic communications, like better and more emails was mentioned by over 40% of those surveyed.* The trust level with healthcare practitioners is so fundamental. One way that providers can help foster trust is through communication so I would over communicate over anything else. One last item mentioned in the survey was in home visits and it was also pretty high up on the list. Of course, this harkens back to a long time ago, but I think it’s a real opportunity for someone who wants to venture into that space with over 20% of people saying it was something they would like*.

With the recent pandemic and other challenges we are facing today what are the key takeaways that you think providers should take away from your research and its’ findings during this time?

Weiss:I have four key takeaways, the first is to really focus on mental health, and what you can do to help patients deal with any challenges related to that. You know, physical heath is important, but the pandemic has really put increased emphasis and more anxiety on people when it comes to their mental health, particularly when you think about isolation and things like that, whatever you can do, and that includes hearing aids to help that, would go a long way. The second key takeaway is to forget about the myth that older people are technologically challenged, they can’t use their phones, they are not online. Embrace digital — everything from your website and how you communicate with patients online, to how you deliver your services, rather it be through telehealth, or other delivering methods, think digital, because that’s how people want to be communicated to and with. Third, get rid of those ageist ideas when it comes to hearing aids. There are generally two reasons why people don’t want to wear hearing aids, one is because of the myths and stereotypes. Counter that thinking by focusing on the benefits that come with better hearing. It’s all about lifestyle, being able to be active and engage, because that’s what people are really looking for. The last key takeaway and the other reason why people are hesitant or don’t really want to get hearing aids, is really about the cost associated with them. So being able to offer patients different payment options when it comes to buying hearing aids is important. It’s also important to equate the purchase back to lifestyle terms. When you say to a patient, “The cost of your hearing devices is a very small price to pay when you think about the benefits related to your lifestyle. Engaging with the people you love, family and friends, being able to do all of the activities that you want to do — that you’ll be able to do so much better if your hearing is corrected” it helps them to connect with the emotional benefits and not just the functionality.    

*Based on a survey (conducted November 2020) by Age of Majority of more than 600 adults 55+ who are members of Revolution55, Age of Majority's online insight community.

This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other advisors with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit (collectively, “Synchrony”), makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accepts no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in this article are the sole opinions of Jeff Weiss. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.