PHOENIX — At the AudiologyNow! convention here last week, visitors stood next to blowing electric fans to experience how a new hearing aid could screen out wind noise. They donned goggles to attend a virtual reality dinner party to learn how new technology made it easier to hear conversations around them.
But the elephant in the room, as it were, was what was happening outside the convention hall.
The consumer electronics industry is encroaching on the hearing aid business, offering products that are far less expensive and available without the involvement of audiologists or other professionals. That is forcing a re-examination of the entire system for providing hearing aids, which critics say is too costly and cumbersome, hindering access to devices vital for the growing legions of older Americans.