Consumer / Employer, Health Tech

‘The consumer is looking for a guide’: 2 companies partner to offer OTC hearing aid counsel

Over-the-counter hearing aids are hitting the market, but many consumers may not know what product is best for them. Tuned and Soundly, both hearing care companies, are collaborating to provide guidance.

With over-the-counter hearing aids hitting the market Monday, a new partnership is helping guide consumers to the right products.

The August decision by the Food and Drug Administration to allow over-the-counter hearing aids for those 18 years and older was applauded by audiologists as a way to expand access to hearing care. But many professionals still recommend getting evaluated by a clinician to find the best device as needs differ by person.

Guiding consumers to the right product is exactly what hearing care companies Tuned and Soundly aim to do. The two startups are partnering to provide virtual consultations on hearing devices.

“The fact that there are a lot more products and there are a lot more services is on the one hand great,” said Danny Aronson, CEO and cofounder of Tuned, in an interview. “But for the consumer, it is very confusing. And the consumer is looking for a guide, somebody who is a professional who has no skin in the game other than their care and benefit.”

New York City-based Tuned is a hearing benefit company for employers that offers hearing screenings, consultations with audiologists and products sold on its website. Los Angeles-based Soundly, meanwhile, is a direct-to-consumer service that provides an online marketplace to compare and purchase hearing products. It also offers education on hearing care and hearing tests. 

Through the new partnership, Soundly is selling over-the-counter and prescription hearing aid products on its website. With each product, there is a video by a Tuned audiologist breaking down the device features. If consumers still aren’t sure which product they want, they can book a one-on-one virtual consultation with a Tuned audiologist, in which they will receive a list of options that fit the consumers’ needs, whether that’s a device sold on Soundly or other recommendations not offered on the platform.

“We really are entering a space where a lot of the products available will not have a professional layer added on,” said Blake Cadwell, CEO and founder of Soundly, in an interview. “You’ll maybe have customer service, but you are accessing hearing aids in a way that doesn’t have professional care associated with it. I think that’s why I’m so excited about this partnership because I think it’s really essential. Many people, maybe even most people, will want to talk to someone at some point.”

A consultation through Tuned costs $150, but is discounted to $135 if it is booked through Soundly, Aronson said. The two companies will be sharing the revenue through these consultations, according to Cadwell.

For Cadwell and Aronson, who both suffer from hearing loss, the partnership aims to solve an issue they experienced in their journey to receiving care: the lack of education around hearing health. The process of researching and finding the right care “was extremely difficult and confusing,” and professional guidance was hugely beneficial, Cadwell said of his own experience. 

“Working with a doctor has been an essential part to me ultimately finding products and solutions to my hearing loss,” he said.

And while some audiologists may be concerned that over-the-counter hearing aids will make their work obsolete, Aronson debunked those claims.

“I think one of the things that you’ve seen pushback and a lot of concern from audiologists is this feeling that [over-the-counter] is going to make them redundant, people are not going to get the care they need,” Aronson said. “I don’t see that happening … When was the last time you spent $900 at CVS? That’s not typical consumer behavior. People are looking for guidance, they’re looking for somebody to tell them what their options are and what’s the best use for their funds.”

Photo: PIKSEL, Getty Images