On Monday the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a letter report on innovation in hearing technologies. The focus of the report is on the technologies used for mild and/or moderate hearing impairment. The aging population will have need of such technologies, but a relatively small percentage of people who could benefit from them actually use them. To help support the report recommendations, PCAST makes the argument that the current market and regulations covering hearing aids lead to a relatively static market that provides little innovation and extracts rather large costs for devices, preventing many from purchasing them.
The recommendations are exclusively about regulations. PCAST recommends that non-surgical air conductive hearing aids be allowed for over-the-counter sales without needing to visit a credentialed dispenser. Similarly, the report recommends that diagnostic tests for fitting and adjusting these devices should be available over the counter. PCAST wants the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its 2013 draft guidance on personal sound amplification devices (PSAP), which, in the opinion of PCAST, heightens an artificial distinction between the two kinds of devices that prevents those with hearing loss to benefit from advances in technology.
(While the report does not address this head on, the distinction between hearing aids and PSAP devices touches on the different values placed on technology that restores ‘normal’ function and technology that ‘augments’ that function. Possibly a topic more appropriate for the Bioethics Commission.)
The other two recommendations call for consumers to have the ability to take the results of relevant hearing and audio tests acquired from hearing aid dispensers and audiologists at no additional cost. This would be comparable to what consumers can already do with vision tests for eyeglasses and/or contact lenses.
The date of the next PCAST meeting is November 20, though it is not currently on the PCAST website. This letter report will be on the agenda, along with presentations on nanotechnology and new regulatory frameworks for research. The PCAST study on private sector activities in climate change adaptation and resilience. More details will be available once the draft agenda is online.