The Silicon Review
In the digital world we live in, hearing aid technology has undergone drastic changes to become more accessible to users. Healthy hearing is often associated with positive health outcomes, improved communication, better engagement in a social setting, and significantly reducing the risk of depression. We can now better understand that the quality of life will take a hit if the sense of hearing is impaired. Globally, there are various companies delivering outstanding solutions to support hearing health, but hearX Group stands out from the rest. The motivation behind starting hearX® was a concern for the lack of global access to hearing healthcare, and by using the advancements in technology as well as mobile technology, hearX Group was able to fulfill this need. Hearing loss is referred to as a “silent epidemic,” affecting 466 million people globally. 34 million of these are children, and only a handful seek intervention once they know they have a hearing loss, due to device cost and access.
The World Health Organization estimates that unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of US $750 billion. The effects of untreated hearing loss are pervasive and far-reaching and impact communication, socio-emotional well-being, and academic and vocational success. Healthy hearing is the key to healthy learning and healthy aging. By developing world-first hearing healthcare solutions, hearX® enables kids to learn and stay in school; people to further their studies and contribute to economies; reduce the burden on healthcare systems globally; and help people to age better.
In conversation with Nic Klopper, CEO of hearX Group
Q. Can you explain about your services in brief?
hearX Group (Pty) Ltd is an impact-driven digital health company that is passionate about healthy hearing and on a mission to improve it. hearX’s award-winning products span the full circle of hearing health, from detection to diagnosis to intervention. The business consists of two divisions: the B2B division that offers award-winning clinical hearing health solutions for hearing healthcare professionals and retailers; and the B2C division with the Lexie Hearing platform that offers medical-grade hearing aids at 80% less than the cost of traditional hearing aids on a fully inclusive remote care model. In a few short years, hearX’s footprint has grown to reach 191 countries and almost 2 million people globally.
Q. What are the challenges you had to face while developing solutions for hearX Group? How did you overcome them?
As with any company’s journey to success, we experienced a few challenges, including: 1) building detection and diagnostic technologies that can be operated without the presence of a healthcare professional (this reduces the burden on healthcare systems); 2) developing technology with the ability to be used without a constant electricity and mobile connection supply (enabling it to be used in an offline state, making it truly accessible); 3) and turning a regular smartphone into a medical device through smart setup, controls, and data management. Hearing screening programs can be prohibitively expensive, especially in developing or third-world countries. Equipment is costly, and resources required to perform such services, such as trained audiologists, are scarce.
There is an incredibly low number of audiologists in the world, and in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, there is only 1 hearing care professional for every million people. In addition, the general awareness of hearing loss is poor and the severe shortage of health personnel and expensive equipment has caused a lack of screening programs, resulting in most people being unable to access hearing healthcare. hearX’s solutions use smart technology to put solutions into the community’s hands for the detection and diagnosis of hearing health issues in adults and children, at a fraction of the cost and without the need for a qualified professional to conduct the testing. With our award-winning hearing aid and remote care solutions, hearX Group serves the U.S. market by making direct-to-consumer hearing aids available to people with hearing loss at a 1/4 of the price of traditional hearing aids, setting them up from home, and receiving post-purchase customer care from a team of Lexie Experts via video or voice call.
Q. How do your solutions align with the existing medical practice?
The audiology industry has seen very little innovation over the last century. hearX® has revolutionized and disrupted the industry by creating a suite of technologies that use smart algorithms (in line with industry gold standards), artificial intelligence and big data to accurately detect, diagnose and treat hearing loss around the world, finally making hearing health accessible. hearX® is an ISO 13485 medical device compliant company and we pride ourselves in developing HIPAA compliant, CE and FDA certified medical devices. Our technology enables the use of smartphones/tablets and headsets for evidence-based hearing screening, which dramatically reduces the cost and simultaneously makes the process more efficient. Our consumer brand, Lexie Hearing, has put an audiologist in consumers’ pockets with its revolutionary and award-winning hearing aid technologies, which have been clinically proven to provide health outcomes equivalent to traditional audiologist devices, but with the added benefit of 6-days-a-week hands on remote telemedicine and in-app controls.
All our solutions have been clinically-validated to produce accurate and reliable test results and there have been numerous peer-reviewed publications on the clinical accuracy of the applications. These B2B solutions have smart features built into the technology to ensure on-site quality control and test reliability. The headphones are calibrated annually to further ensure the accuracy of test results. Results are uploaded to our cloud-based server called mHealth Studio Cloud, where it is securely stored in accordance with the data protection regulations within each region in which we operate. The results can also be downloaded for further data reporting requirements, if required, and the system can automatically generate and send messages to patients (or parents) on outcomes of the tests or instructions for any follow-up triage services
Q. What strategies are in place to encourage innovation in your company?
hearX® has an adaptive strategic culture, allowing us to innovate quickly and drive change within the industry, by monitoring environmental factors and anticipating changes, both internally and externally. We have multiple strategic scientific advisory boards that guide us on external factors, while assisting us improve the products too. The company follows an adapted agile methodology: mixing the requirements for medical devices which are typically more waterfall, with the benefits of the agile methodology. We have a flat structure, allowing for transparency throughout the team, with multiple centers of decision-making. We believe that there is strength in diversity and ensure that our multi-disciplinary team represents the best of the world, hiring the best-of-the-best. The hearX® team has a shared vision, mission and clear goals of bringing healthy hearing to everyone, everywhere. Knowing that the team is making an impact and a difference in the world, as well as contributing to the enhancement of someone’s life with the work they are doing, is one of the biggest motivators for innovation. We encourage teamwork and an open communication channel within a healthy and modern office environment and are firm believers of providing opportunities for development. To keep the team’s spirits high we like to celebrate special occasions and victories.
Q. Do you have any new services ready to be launched?
As a leading audiological tech company, there are always exciting developments in the pipeline. We are expanding our solutions to be able to perform hearing tests on patients who cannot respond, like newborns, children younger than 3 years and older individuals. This new solution, hearOAE, is a low cost otoacoustic emissions device allowing us to detect damage in the cochlea ahead of when that damage would translate into a hearing loss as seen on an audiogram. This portable and cost-effective solution will allow for the implementation of universal hearing screening programs that were previously not possible due to prohibitive OAE device costs, and change the life trajectories of children born with hearing loss.
Q. What does the future hold for your company and its customers? Are exciting things on the way?
In addition to the OAE device mentioned above, we’ve entered a very exciting period for the hearing aid industry in the U.S. with the introduction of over-the-counter hearing aids in October 2022. For hearX® in particular this is a pivotal moment because it’s consumer brand, Lexie Hearing, was able to win 40% share of voice in the media during the launch of OTC hearing aids, and secured the biggest retail footprint amongst its competitors with a presence in over 12,000 stores nationwide. We’re already selling the equivalent of 4% of the hearing aids in the USA traditional hearing aid space, in a matter of months, an achievement we’re proud of and which shows where this new category can grow to. It is estimated that OTC hearing aids could add over $14.5 billion to the hearing aid market TAM by 2025, and we’re excited to take center stage in this new industry, finally giving hearing care to those that need it the most.
Meet the leader behind the success of hearX Group
Nic Klopper is a renowned entrepreneur, business enthusiast, CEO of hearX and visionary in the digital healthcare space. His experience in business ranges from being an avid start-up investor, to founding 7 successful businesses and exiting 3 of them to date. His expertise, vision and passion for online software as a service application has attracted several companies’ attention, leading to him holding pivotal positions across multiple start-ups. Nic’s vision is founded in his passion for social impact with the mission to drastically reinvent the healthcare industry using digital solutions, artificial intelligence and big data. He excels in the analysis and commercialization of market disruptive products, platforms and technologies.