Do OTC and DTC Hearing Aid Options Mean Trouble For Audiology Retailers?

Over-the-counter (OTC) and direct-to-consumer (DTC) options are set to disrupt the hearing care industry. Is your clinic ready for the challenges to come?

Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are available from October in the US as the FDA cleared OTC hearing aids for sale last week. This may turn the next few years to be challenging for audiology hearing centers, with new pressures, players, and provision channels.

New over-the-counter (OTC) and direct-to-consumer (DTC) devices will directly impact customer attitudes concerning hearing aid testing and fitting. If customers can self-test using an app that produces beeps and whistles, what’s the point of attending a private practice that appears to do the same?

Why Visit Audiology Hearing Centers When Consumers Can Self-test? 

OTC DTC Self Test

If the consumer can self-test using an app on their phone, they will likely wonder what’s the point of visiting an audiology hearing center that appears to do the same. Likewise, if the fitting of their devices is perceived to be a simple point and click, why would they pay extra for the involvement of a trained professional?  

The OTC and DTC provision channels offer no best practice assessment such as video otoscopy, tympanometry speech discrimination, QuickSIN testing, Real Ear Measurements, independent fit verification, or other tests, which is an opportunity for retail audiology.   

Studies Show Consumers Want Professional Guidance

OTC DTC Professional Help

Studies indicate that when it comes to hearing aids, most consumers want expert guidance and personalized counselling. While over the counter and direct-to-consumer channels will increase consumer choices, these options don’t provide the necessary advice that consumers crave. 

In fact, the increase in hearing aid options may lead to an entirely new cohort of consumers who need help navigating the complex choices.    

Several studies were detailed in a recent Hearing Review article. For instance, a 2021 UK study found that hearing aid users wanted a professional who provides personalized care and expert guidance. As this article states, offering an expert navigation service could be highly profitable for audiology retailers.  

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Opportunities For Audiology Hearing Centers


Interestingly, a 2021 poll of more than 2,000 US adults by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) found that nearly 9 in 10 said they would want a diagnosis from a trained professional before buying a hearing aid. Nearly as many said it would be extremely or very important to know which technology options would be most appropriate for their hearing loss before buying a device.   

As we wrote in our blog, “Over the counter hearing aids – what should you do as a practice owner,” OTC and DTC channels may also ensure that new paid services like verification of fit, and/or the customization of OTC or DTC devices, may be attractive to consumers.  

Considering that 83% of the consumers in ASHA’s poll said it’s very important to understand which technology options are most appropriate for their situation, it’s likely that many people will continue relying on retail hearing centers for counsel, support, fitting, and other necessary services. 

Additionally, HealthyHearing.com surveyed 809 people ages 50+ in the US and found many to be wary of OTC hearing aid options. A low 23% said they would be willing to give up any services like professional hearing testing, hearing aid selection, and hearing aid programming.  

When asked, “If you needed hearing aids, how important do you think it would be to have a hearing care professional select, fit, and program hearing devices specifically for your needs,” 94% of respondents indicated it was “absolutely important” or “very important.”  

Counseling, Fitting, And Testing = Key Differentiators 

OTC Testing

A retail audiology business that offers counselling, fitting, testing, and other value-add services differentiates itself immediately. Multiple studies show that consumers still want professional guidance and services, even when they can get OTC or DTC hearing aids.  

Audiology hearing centers that offer testing and fit verification provide value that consumers can’t get through OTC or DTC channels. Audiology hearing centers provide care and services that are relevant to consumers – and are key benefits that OTC and DTC provision channels do not provide.

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