Back in the sixties, when I went into private practice, most of the hearing aid manufacturers had exclusive dealers around the country to sell and service their products. For the most part, there were no Audiologists selling hearing instruments at that time, due to our national certifying agency disallowing the selling of hearing aids and labeling it as “unethical.”
We early Audiologists had a very difficult time because the manufacturers were afraid to upset their existing dealer networks and were reluctant to sell us hearing aids. The purpose of this blog is to provide a historical overview of how the dispensing of hearing instruments has evolved over the years to where today people can benefit from wearable amplification that was only dreamed of in the early days of hearing aid dispensing.
In the sixties, Beltone and Zenith companies purveyed their hearing aids through exclusive dealers and probably comprised fifty per cent of the hearing aid sales in the United States. The rest of the market was divided up with various small companies all competing for the remainder of the sales. This was before the all-in-the-ear instruments that were introduced in the early seventies by Starkey, and many of my patients were fit with eyeglass instruments which were very much in vogue at the time.
Widex, Oticon and Siemens were making behind-the-ear hearing aids to compete with the American companies such as Qualitone, Audiotone, Radioear,Dahlberg, Acousticon,Electone and many others .
This was before hearing aid licensing and before the FDA began to monitor the industry. Gradually, the industry started to change for the better as the manufacturers and dispensers became more proficient and conscientious about the patients they served, Audiologists, trained in the hearing sciences, began to enter the field as teachers and trainers to the traditional dealers, and finally, the instruments and dispensing models of the industry started to change for the betterment of the hearing impaired.
“Economic Darwinism” began to kick in and many of the smaller manufacturers fell by the wayside. About this time, some “big name” companies decided to enter the market place only to discover that the market was not lucrative enough to warrant their attention. Consequently, companies like 3M, Philips, Bosch and several others came in and then left the market.
Starkey initiated the early interest in the in-the-ear hearing aids and the other companies scrambled to catch up. In the early eighties, President Reagan was seen with a small in-the-ear hearing aid, which stimulated sales for several years. The hearing aids and the professionals dispensing them all improved, making it an exciting time in our industry.
(NEXT: digital hearing aids hit the market)