Infrared systems, loop systems, and TV Ears? These are all assistive listening devices (ALDs) that help people hear the TV, the movie in a theater, and more, by boosting the sound clarity between their hearing aids and the sound source.
TV Ears, a wireless headset, is one of hundreds of trendy ALDs in the hearing marketplace today. The infrared technology helps people with hearing loss enjoy TV without blasting the volume. Popular with celebrities like Pat Boone (who uses and promotes TV Ears), these and many other ALDs may be worth offering to patients through your practice.
Basically, these devices can improve listening and communication in different situations. ALDs may be a good option for patients who aren’t ready to admit they’re starting to lose some hearing, and can be a way to win them over until they are ready to try hearing aids.
“ALDs are a great introduction to hearing aids and provide a realistic way for people to learn the potential of a hearing care product,” says Chad Engel, communications manager at Williams Sound in Eden Prairie, Minn. “Systems such as television listening devices don’t have the negative connotation of hearing aids, but enhance the listening experience.”
Alternately, ALDs can be another way to help your patients who already use hearing aids get an extra boost in certain settings.
Which ALDs to Offer in Your Hearing Practice
You may be ready to offer a few, select ALDs in your practice, but aren’t sure how to choose among the dizzying array of infrared, FM or inductive-loop technology devices. Which ALDs will give you (and your patients) the biggest bang for your buck?
Before you select which ALDs to offer your patients, keep in mind that ALDs have been getting a bad rap among some audiologists for years. These practice owners say the margins are “horrible.” On the other hand, many hearing care professionals vouch for ALDs, saying that ALDs make up a neglected side-industry. Professionals who fall into this group believe that ALDs hold potential for profit and for establishing goodwill with your patients. They also say that ALDs can boost listening performance when used with hearing aids.
This article is intended to guide you in understanding obstacles to promoting ALDs. Here we address some of the issues to consider, including the time and trouble you take to learn about ALDs, and how to convince your patients to try them. We also outline the main ALD categories, and describe some popular devices – and how patients might pay for them.
Helping patients understand the benefits of using ALDs with hearing aids. When patients are fitted for expensive hearing aids, they typically think that the aids will resolve every one of their hearing issues. It’s not easy for an audiologist to say, “This hearing aid is going to work great for you, but you still might not be able to hear well on the phone”…or…”You may still have difficulty hearing in crowded environments.” Yet, according to Vanessa Adams of Weitbrecht Communications, the solution for some patients is to put hearing aids together with ALDs – to help them listen better on the phone or hear dialogue in a crowded room more clearly.
ALDs can be a hard sell, especially if the patient has just plunked down thousands of dollars on hearing aids. In the long-run, however, you’ll be doing your patients a favor by recommending supplementary device options as well. “It is my opinion that ALDs have the ability to make or break a hearing-impaired person’s success in adapting to using a hearing instrument,” says Pauline Marrow Davies, owner of Hearing for Tomorrow. “While not every office wants to get involved with ALDs and they are considered somewhat bothersome, ALDs are a necessary item.”
Will offering ALDs add too much time to patient appointments? The time it takes for you to figure out the needs of each patient and then also help individuals learn how to use their ALDs may cause concern. It’s recommended that you team up with a well-established supplier who stays updated on the latest ALDs. You can ask the supplier for educational materials to give to your patients for them to read over on their own time. It costs you nothing to put ALD brochures in your waiting room or to share them with patients during appointments.
Keeping ALDs in stock and learning about them. Of course, there are advantages to having patients try out ALDs in your office and learn how helpful they can be. As a professional, you can guide your patients to the higher quality devices, and away from the cheaper ones on the market that have poor sound features. It will require you to do some homework, but if you are up-to-date on ALDs, you can build good provider-patient relations by ensuring that your patients are investing in the better products on the market.
If you talk about ALDs with a patient, it shows that you are looking out for their total hearing health. And (from a marketing perspective) it is also a good way to build your provider-patient relationship.
Categories and types of ALDs
You can help patients understand why ALDs are beneficial in their everyday lives in one of these areas: 1) phone, 2) TV, and 3) listening situations with face-to-face dialogue:
Amplified phones & accessories – For these, your patient needs to choose the amount of amplification needed.
- Portable amplifiers – can amplify sounds up to 30d; useful for hearing loss that’s mild-to-moderate
- In-line amplifiers – They connect between the base of a corded phone and handset. They amplify incoming sounds as high as 40dB and are used for moderate-to-severe hearing loss.
- Bluetooth®-enabled Amplified phone – Your patients can answer either their cell or landline phones through an existing cell phone.
- Professional Office Neckloop System (PONS Kit) – This is a great office solution for those with telecoil-equipped hearing aids. The kit comes with an in-line phone amplifier, amplified neckloop, connectivity cable and handset line splitter.
- Wireless & Bluetooth solutions – If your patients move around a lot at the office, especially while on the phone, you’ll want to check out a wireless neckloop or headset solution.
TV listening & Home Loop Systems – Many TV systems are made up of a transmitter that connects to the TV and transmits audio to the receiver that your patients wear. Patients can listen to the TV at a reasonable volume. Alternatively, the HyperSound Clear system is an assistive hearing system that delivers a narrow beam of sound directly to the listener who requires it, without the use of any headset or other body-worn receiver.
Home Loop Systems – Home loop systems have 3 parts: loop wire, loop amplifier and telecoil-equipped hearing aids. These make it possible to listen to TV through hearing aids.
Personal amplifier (and microphones) – This is a little box with a mic and listening cord attached. It is used mostly for face-to-face dialogue or conversations in a car. It lets the person your patient is talking to attach a microphone to their clothing – and then your patient can plug it into their own personal amplifier to hear the conversation more clearly.
Understanding the Types of ALD Systems
If your patients want an ALD that lets them have more flexibility and mobility (and a wider range), an FM system might be a good choice. Your patients would wear a portable receiver that lets them hear the person speaking. The speaker then wears a microphone transmitter that lets your patients hear from as far away as 150 feet. This option would be useful for classroom settings.
This option uses light waves in lieu of radio waves to transmit sounds. These systems allow for more privacy as the light waves cannot pass through walls. They are primarily used in settings like courtrooms, doctor’s offices, or movie theaters. They are not as versatile as FM systems.
Induction loop systems
If your patients have hearing aids with t-coils, they may like an induction loop system. This uses an electromagnetic field to transmit sound. Basically, it has a loop of insulated wire that connects to a microphone, an amplifier and power source. These are great for a t-coil hearing aid wearer or in a group setting. Those who don’t use hearing aids can also enjoy a loop system with headphones (or a receiver system). These range from a small loop that a patient wears around the neck to one that is installed to go around a full room.
Bluetooth technology is an innovation that is getting more attention among hearing aid users. While Bluetooth hearing aids are not on the market yet, many hearing aid manufacturers are releasing wireless hearing aids and advanced platforms that allow connectivity to online apps and a range of devices – streaming technology that communicates with other wireless devices such as a cell phone or computer, for example. The streamer lets a user switch among several devices (ie, iPods, tablets), to make adjustments to the hearing aid settings, and more.
ALDs Popular Among Hearing aid Users and Others
CapTel captioned telephone – displays captions of your caller’s words during a phone conversation. This device gives hearing aid wearers more confidence so they don’t miss words. (from Weitbrecht Communications)
Tel Ear II – goes with a variety of telephone handsets on the market.
Cell-U-Hear Listening Pad – for use with cell phones. (Hearing for Tomorrow)
Amplified telephones, personal amplifiers, and TV listening devices (from Harris Communications)
SoundPlus™ TV infrared listening system – used for TV-viewing, this ALD connects to the TV, DVD or VCR directly and the sound goes through earphones, headphones or a neckloop.
TV listening systems (“SET100J, or Direct Ear™ SET 100) – has a transmitter that connects to TVs, VCRs, and other compatible audio sources; can be used with “SET810” personal FM listening device (Sennheiser Electronic Corp)
HyperSound Clear (for TV) – an assistive hearing system for TV listening that directs a narrow beam of clear sound to the listener with hearing loss, without the use of any headset or other body-worn receiver. (Turtle Beach Corporation)
Comfort Duett personal amplifier – With a built-in T-coil, this is lightweight with amplification up to 60 dB. Comfort Contego is a digital wireless FM assistive listening system. It sends its signals encrypted – an industry first! It can be used with or without hearing aids. (Comfort Audio)
Cordless telephones, alarm clocks, cell phone accessories, and amplified stethoscopes (Beyond Hearing Aids, Eko Devices, ThinkLabs Medical)
Pocketalker® – a portable device that can amplify sounds that are nearest to the listener, while reducing background noise
Teletalker™ – an amplified telephone (Williams Sound)
ClearSounds CSC50, UltraClear Sound Shaping Telephone with caller ID – This is an analog phone with amplification up to 50 dB. (ClearSounds Communications)
Talking with Patients about Paying for ALDs
Let patients know that the costs of ALDs can be a lot lower than hearing aids, and although some ALDs and accessories are not covered by insurance, they may be affordable through the use of third-party financing, such as CareCredit. Consider offering CareCredit’s patient financing program in your practice to help make both ALDs and hearing aids more accessible for budget-minded patients. With a financing plan, patients can get ALDs and hearing aids right away and then make easy monthly payments interest-free for six months or more.
Resources for ALDs
Weitbrecht Communications (WCI) in Santa Monica, Calif, is among the leading suppliers of ALDs in the US. WCI was founded over 20 years ago by the inventor of the first texting devices for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Hearing for Tomorrow (HFT) in Duluth, Minn, is another resource. This company began as a local distributor of ALDs in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in 2002. HFT focuses on telephone adaptors for those with hearing aids.
Comfort Audio in Halmstad, Sweden was established 22 years ago. It offers personal ALDs and a range of systems – from those that enable active work environments and to systems for school settings.
Beyond Hearing Aids Inc, in Erlanger, Ky, provides training, support, and sales of assistive listening and alerting devices to providers who serve those with hearing loss.
There are plenty more providers of assistive devices and systems in the marketplace, and many more advanced technologies on the horizon. To attract and retain more patients for your practice, delve deeper into ALDs and consider offering a variety of them as a way to expand your professional expertise and services!