Philips launches discreet hearing aid

Philips Electronics, one of the world's leading hearing-aid manufacturers, hopes to gain the upper hand on its rivals with the introduction of a revolutionary new type of hearing aid.Jim Rodd, technical manager for Philips' Hearing Instruments division says the Philips XP...

Philips Electronics, one of the world’s leading hearing-aid manufacturers, hopes to gain the upper hand on its rivals with the introduction of a revolutionary new type of hearing aid.

Jim Rodd, technical manager for Philips’ Hearing Instruments division says the Philips XP Peritympanic ‘is the first true custom deep-canal hearing instrument that’s worn entirely within the auditory canal — so it’s virtually invisible.’

Rodd says the fact that the XP is all but undetectable should give it a huge market advantage over competing products, since people suffering from hearing loss tend to be highly self-conscious about their problem.

‘Most people worry that if other people see them wearing a hearing aid, they will think they are handicapped,’ he says.

Because people with hearing loss have long resisted wearing visible hearing aids, the market is believed to be greatly underdeveloped.

According to Philips, approximately 32 million North Americans suffer from hearing loss, but only five million wear some sort of hearing device.

‘You have to come to the conclusion that 80 per cent of the people that suffer from a hearing loss are not wearing hearing aids because they don’t want to show the outside world that they have that problem,’ says Hank Valk, Philips’ president for the North American market.

Each year in North American, 1.9 million hearing aids are fitted, Valk says. Canadian fittings run in the area of 160,000 annually.

Although Philips is the third-largest hearing-aid manufacturer worldwide, it ranks considerably lower in the North American market, closer to ninth or tenth, according to Rodd.

Dominating North America are companies such as custom hearing instrument specialist Starkey Labs of Minneapolis, Minn., and electronics giant Siemans AG of Germany.

Valk hopes the XP will lead Philips back to a more commanding position in the North American market.

‘We’ve been working on the product for four years in Europe and we see this as a unique opportunity to come back to this market,’ he says.

‘Studies show that in two or three years, 30 to 40% of all hearing instruments fitted will be of the deep canal type.’

One factor that will be on the side of all hearing aid manufacturers is demographics, says Valk, explaining that ‘as the population grows older and older, we can anticipate that this market will increase dramatically.’

According to Valk, between the ages of 25 and 45, the ratio of people with hearing loss is 1 in 20.

Between 45 and 65, it’s 1 in 9.

Beyond age 65, as much as one third of the population suffers some kind of hearing loss.

Philips has started laying the groundwork to capture this market by recruiting hearing-aid dispensers and training them to properly fit the XP.

‘This product will only be available to dealers who take the Philips XP training course to learn how to do the deep canal impression,’ Rodd says.

The media vehicle used to reach the dispensers has been trade journals, the two prominent ones being the American publications Hearing Instruments and Hearing Journal. A bilingual Canadian publication, Ecouter also serves audiologists.

Valk says Philips recently ran an ad campaign in the u.s. trade journals that prompted 5,000 of the 8,000 to 9,000 dispensers in that country to apply for the XP training course journals.

Another 50 dispensers have been recruited in Canada, he adds.

As for actual fittings of the product, Philips is moving slowly but surely.

‘We said (to dispensers) we want you to fit four or five (types of) hearing instruments and not more,’ Valk says, explaining Philips wants the dispensers to ‘experience the instrument and get to know everything about it.’

In Canada, the cultivation of dispensers has so far been restricted to Ontario and Quebec.

Rodd says ‘the main thrust is to specific dealers who take the course.’

He says dispensers who complete the XP course are being supplied with advertising packages and co-op ad dollars.

Although the details have yet to be worked out, Rodd says Philips will eventually support the dispensers with a print and television campaign.

Philips currently does not have an agency-of-record handling the account.

In Ontario,where it will retail for between $1,500 and $1,800, the XP will not be covered by the province’s Assisted Devices Program, which subsidizes the cost of hearing aids.

This is primarily because of the upscale nature of the product, Rodd says.

‘The people who are looking for this type of product are the CEOs or young executives or others who would spend the money for a hearing aid like this,’ he adds.