Sound Advice

Hearing Solutions

Toronto based Hearing Solutions began when its founder came to the city to pursue a golden business opportunity. Having originally come from Montreal, current President of Hearing Solutions, Ron Abish, with his Masters Degree in Business from John Hopkins University, moved to Toronto in 1996 to build the company.

“At the time we had an opportunity to purchase Bay Hearing Centers, a licensee of the Hudson’s Bay Company,” Ron explains. “So we ran Bay Hearing Centres, several mini-clinics that operated in the Bay department stores, for about two years and then, in 1999, determined that we didn’t want to build up a brand name around another company.” The decision was then made to leave the Bay and have the company set up independently and become Hearing Solutions.

The company initially had two locations and by around 2008 had grown to six clinics. At the time, Hearing Solutions was in a bit of flux between being too large for a mom and pop place but too small for a larger organization. Ron then made the decision to expand as he felt there were many innovative things the company could bring to the table. The business now boasts twelve locations, with an additional two clinics opening in the fall.

With clinics from Pickering to the east, Oakville to the west and Thornhill to the north, Hearing Solutions is looking to expand even further. Ron explains that historically the company has focused on the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), where he still sees excellent opportunities for expansion. However, “Our locations have to be just right; we have been looking in shopping malls and we really need the right location inside the right shopping center, and we will wait until we have that perfect spot. So we have recently started looking to expand outside the GTA – just give us that great location, and we are interested,” he says.

The Importance of Good Hearing

With hearing loss being the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing older adults, the aim has been to educate people on how to prevent hearing damage. The leading preventable cause of hearing loss is noise exposure, whether from occupational sources such as machinery or recreational sources like loud music. The use of hearing protection devices, such as earplugs, decreases the intensity of noise when someone must be around it.

As a result of repeated exposure to high noise levels, damage develops gradually, beginning with the loss of higher frequencies. Chronic exposure to excessive noise can lead to muffled or distorted hearing, ringing in the ears that does not go away, trouble understanding what people are saying (particularly in crowded situations) or the inability to hear high pitched sounds.

Early audiological screening, or more commonly known as a hearing test, is essential for those who are exposed to excessive noise. Hearing Solutions uses a machine called an audiometer to test hearing, as well as other equipment to accurately determine the extent of one’s hearing loss. Ron explains that they have also introduced other technologies into their clinics. “One of the things we have done with our new state of the art clinics, over the last several years, is that we have created a virtual restaurant. What we’ve done is created a room decorated like a restaurant, which is a common theme or public venue where many people complain of being affected by their hearing loss. So we have produced a video where you have a waiter taking someone’s order. The first time the order is taken it would be based on someone with a hearing loss, and it is difficult to understand what the waiter is saying. We want to show how the order being taken would sound properly with the use of a hearing aid. So it wouldn’t be the noise levels that change, it would be the ability to hear the voices properly.”

Another advantage of the virtual environment would be the testing and programming of the hearing aid in something that more closely approximates a real world setting, and that leads to increased customer satisfaction. “When someone is fit with a hearing aid in the quiet environment of a typical medical clinic, they could say, ‘Oh, it sounds great!’ but when they go out into a public venue and are exposed to the multitude of noises we all typically encounter, all of a sudden they can’t hear so well with their new hearing aid. We use the noisy environment brought about in the virtual restaurant to program the hearing aid properly and adjust it to the various settings it requires.”

After one’s hearing is tested, if a hearing aid is required, it will be prescribed by the clinician. The cost of a hearing aid can run from $1000 to $3500. However, to help Ontarians with the expense, OHIP has an Assisted Device Program (ADP) that provides a $500 government subsidy.

To encourage others to do something about their hearing loss, Hearing Solutions has a Refer a Friend Program, where if you recommend someone who ends up getting a hearing aid, you get $100. Hearing Solutions has also developed a program dedicated to its growing group of patients. Invested in the hearing health of their patients for years to come, the company’s recently launched Loyalty Program provides financial incentives and promotional perks to patients who continue to choose Hearing Solutions as their primary hearing healthcare provider. Hearing Solutions’ vision is to establish a “long lasting relationship to help ensure our patients receive the best patient care they deserve for years to come.” Just like a well-established relationship with your physician or optometrist, a strong relationship with your Audiology clinic is just as important.

Generally at Hearing Solutions, you do need an appointment, says Ron, but if the clinician happens to be available they can see you right away. “Looking back at how some of our successful clinics were built, it was one patient at a time. During quiet times, the audiologist would be standing by the front of the clinic and if someone came in asking general questions about hearing loss, she would just say, ‘Come let me test you.’ In turn those clinics have become very successful.”

New Technologies

Hearing aid design has undergone many rapid changes in technology. “It used to be that new hearing aids would be released every eighteen months and now they come out with newer technologies every six months or so.” A lot of the focus is on the clarity of voices and on noise cancellation, and there are many advanced designs that are small enough to go inside the ear, eliminating the distaste for the appearance of hearing aids of the past. “The smaller ones that go right inside the ear are the ones most people wish to have, which can make it tricky because those are typically for patients with a milder hearing loss.”

Currently, one of the more popular styles is known as Receiver-In-Canal (RIC) which is unlike the ones your grandmother or grandfather may have worn. This discreet style is connected behind the ear via a nearly-invisible transparent connector and is barely visible.

Most people typically remove their hearing aids at night to go to sleep. Phonak, however, is a manufacturer that recently came out with a hearing aid called The Lyric that is completely invisible; it is inserted deeply into the canal of the ear by a professional and is meant to be worn for extended periods of time. It can even be worn in the shower, whereas typically moisture is the enemy of most hearing aids and they must be kept dry.

Normally, the typical procedure for repairs or special orders would be to send them away, unfortunately taking quite a while to get back to the patient. At any Hearing Solutions location, however, there is a lab on site to handle most minor repairs. “We get each hearing aid from the manufacturer and we are able to do cleaning, diagnostics and maintenance care for each patient at any of our locations,” shares Ron.

It is recommend that hearing aids be cleaned once a week as part of normal maintenance and most come with a warranty that ranges from two to three years. For any major repairs, Ron says that Hearing Solutions can just send the device to the manufacturer which, in Southern Ontario, is never more than an hour away.

Sound Business Practices

Hearing Solutions is the largest independently owned chain of clinics in Southern Ontario, an accredited Better Business Bureau member and is proud to have won the Consumer Choice Award for 2013 and for the past eleven consecutive years for the value it brings to its patients. “Although Hearing Solutions may not be the largest in Canada or always the cheapest option around, Hearing Solutions attaches great importance to the service it provides, and its patients always find great value in the service they receive,” says Ron. The clinics are all staffed with clinicians that are audiologists and hearing instrument specialists. The solid commitment to service extends to the company’s employee peer recognition program called ‘Auditory Sensations’ which honours different staff two to four times a year for quality service.

“Primarily, our focus is on service delivery. We want to facilitate the process of getting a hearing aid, [to make it] as easy as possible. If our patients succeed that is when we will succeed. We want to help Ontarians to hear better.”

Ron, with his business background, is not a clinician but he certainly knows how to contribute in the patient services area. “We know how we would want to be treated as individuals. We want our patients to know that we are ‘hear’ for them no matter what.”

October 23, 2017, 2:01 AM EDT

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