Starkey to launch an OTC hearing aid...reluctantly, and without conviction

Starkey supremo, Brandon Sawalich, has revealed that the US hearing aid manufacturer is developing an over-the-counter (OTC) device that will be released under a different brand name: Start Hearing One.

Published on 11 October 2022

Starkey to launch an OTC hearing aid…reluctantly, and without conviction

The President and CEO of Starkey delivered his bolt from the blue to Audiology Worldnews France (EDP Audio) in an exclusive interview while visiting the group’s French subsidiary in Paris. But despite admitting that Starkey will follow other producers into the OTC market now that the US Food and Drug Administration has regulated this special category for hearing aid sale, Sawalich claimed the product has very little chance of developing in the USA, and next to no chance in France.


“Personally, I don’t believe in OTCs; it’s a way of getting around audiologists.”


Starkey still plans to market a model, however, to offer “this option to its customers”. The Starkey OTC model will be marketed under the “Start Hearing One” brand, and will cost $899.

Despite following the piper into the OTC market, the Starkey boss was far from upbeat about the tune, criticising the OTC concept, its market prospects, and revealing reluctant resignation over Starkey’s involvement.  “Personally, I don’t believe in OTCs; it’s a way of getting around audiologists. All ears are different. Only a specialist can adapt a hearing aid to the specific needs of each patient, whether it is the size of the mould, the settings etc…”, explained Sawalich.

“OTCs are not hearing aids, these devices do not fit with the Starkey philosophy, but we will manufacture them. It will be one more option for our patients,” continued the company’s CEO. “These products have existed for decades in the United States. The announcement of the FDA has only given them a name, an identity. Moreover, this represents only one-to-three percent of the American market and the latter should evolve very slowly.”

Sawalich underlined that the appearance of OTCs, and more specifically of OTC advertising, risks creating confusion in the minds of people requiring fittings. “If I’m hard of hearing and see an ad on Facebook that tells me about a hearing aid that I can buy at the supermarket for a few hundred dollars, why would I book an appointment with an audiologist and spend thousands more dollars?” he asks. “The problem is that it’s not a hearing aid, and that’s going to give real hearing aids a bad name, and patient satisfaction (which is 83% in the US) is going to go down.”

The US Starkey executive team led by Sawalich will move on from Paris to the EUHA Congress in Hanover, Germany, which gets under way on Wednesday, October 12.

Source: EDP Audio

Lucile Perreau