New guidelines urge GPs to provide hearing aids early

As a leading audiology expert, Phonak very much welcomes new guidance published by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), which urges General Practitioners (GPs) to respond at the very first signs that hearing loss is affecting the lives of their patients.

According to NICE, GPs should end the practice of using ‘arbitrary thresholds’ when deciding what to do about hearing loss and instead act at the first signs of impairment.

The new guidelines have a very wide impact. Hearing charity Action on Hearing Loss estimates that more than 40% of people over 50 years old have hearing loss, rising to 71% of people over the age of 70. And NICE estimates that by 2035 there will be around 13 million people with hearing loss in England – that’s a fifth of the population.

The new NICE guidelines come after a number of high profile cases in the press that revealed some NHS trusts had stopped making hearing aids available to those with mild hearing loss and were also making only limited provision for those with moderate hearing loss. It had also become clear that the care offered to people with hearing difficulties varied extensively, depending on where they lived and which NHS Trust served their area.

It is believed that in some areas two-thirds of patients face delays in having their hearing loss diagnosed and accurately managed. Just as worrying, some patients who would benefit from hearing aids in both ears receive only a single aid in a bid to save money. This is widely seen as a false economy since the resulting complications can lead to costly treatments further down the line.

The NICE guidelines suggest that GPs should offer patients “options for managing their hearing needs, such as acoustic or bone conduction hearing aids, assistive listening devices and communication strategies”. It goes on to explain that some may need referrals for “implantable devices such as cochlear implants, bone-anchored hearing aids, middle-ear implants or auditory brainstem implants” and that their condition should be thoroughly assessed from the very beginning.

Another important issue raised is the importance of referring adults with diagnosed or suspected dementia or mild cognitive impairment to an audiology service for a hearing assessment because hearing loss is a common complication in such cases.

At Phonak, we believe that provision and access to care should never be restricted. We welcome the new NICE guidelines and look forward to faster and more effective diagnostic protocols being implemented by GPs across the UK, not least because Phonak’s wide experience shows that providing patients with the right hearing aids at the first sign of hearing impairment not only has a huge impact on their quality of life, but also on the progress of their hearing impairment in future years.

Meet Phonak’s New Managing Director

Hello everyone,

I’m Jon Billings and I’m the new Managing Director here at Phonak. I bring to my new job almost two decades of experience working in high profile roles in the electronics and hearing aid sector, including a period with Phonak around seven years ago.

I have two main reasons for returning to Phonak: the leading position the company holds as a developer of audiology devices and the wide range of exciting brands it offers. Since I left Phonak, the company has become a true market leader. But I’m really pleased to find that the original heart of the business – its dedication to delivering the best audiology solutions for its customers, complemented by outstanding support – has remained the same. For these reasons, I’m delighted and excited about taking on my new role and having the opportunity to steer the business to further growth and success.

At Phonak, I’ll be focussing on the things that make our company great and exploring how all of us working together can do even more for our customers. With this in mind, my first week started with an early morning trip to Switzerland to meet customers at our head office. After that, I attended the Audéo B-Direct launch in London, which generated a huge amount of enthusiasm among visitors.

At the launch, customers and audiologists from across the country told me time after time that we have a game-changing product that is truly ‘made for all’. Great products like this and our dynamic, positive company ethos will help to normalise the use of hearing aids so that more and more of those that could benefit from them will be tested and fitted with the best device for their needs.

I’m proud to be Managing Director of a progressive company that’s bringing to the market products that solve real problems – such as overcoming background noise – and equally proud to be able to offer hearing aids that incorporate the same level of technology as general consumer electronics, such as Bluetooth connectivity and extended battery life. Working with and promoting innovative products that can be tailored to individual needs and lifestyles are key facets of my new role.

I’m incredibly enthusiastic about the future and about how we are going to change our customers’ lives for the better. For instance, recent research has shown that hearing loss could be an early warning sign that an individual might be at greater risk of future cognitive impairment. So, by detecting hearing loss early, we may be able to help mitigate or delay problems like Alzheimer’s disease. A very small device from us can make a huge difference to someone’s life.

I’m looking forward to meeting all of you in the near future but, in the meantime, I’ll be writing a regular column on this blog to keep you updated with the progress we’re making at Phonak. Join me next month when the team and I will be looking at what we’ve achieved over the last twelve months and at our hopes and plans for the coming year.