This week’s guest innovates in an area that most view as already being innovated to its max potential. This view can’t be further from the truth, as this innovator and his team have made game-changing new products. Dave Fabry, Chief Innovation Officer at Starkey, joins us to discuss the innovation of hearing aids. We will discuss audio innovations and what Dave and Starkey are doing to advance hearing aids technology.
Dave is not the typical CIO, as he didn’t come from a tech background. Growing up, he wanted to be a veterinarian and found audiology while on that path. In the early 1980s, Dave went to the Mayo Clinic as an extern, and fell in love with clinical practice and working one-on-one with those who suffered from bad hearing but were reluctant to use aids. After getting his PHD., he went on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he got direct exposure to acoustic pathology that many soldiers struggle with. Later in his career, he switched over from the clinical side of audiology to the industry side, and that eventually lead him to Starkey.
Hearing Aid Technology
In the U.S, only one in three people that need hearing aids wear them. If people become complacent with that, they leave room for a newcomer to disrupt. The mission at Starkey is to self-disrupt the market while still focusing on its core strategy of better hearing. They wanted to provide the first hearing aid with employed sensors connected to the internet. Starkey aims to turn hearing aids from something that people have to wear, into something they want to have and wear.
On the show, we have talked about battling innovation antibodies, and how people deal with their innovation antibodies in an organization. At Starkey, Dave challenges himself to look at what the needs of the patient are rather than what his perspective would lead him to believe. He wears the products at times and works directly with patients when working on new technology. Many organizations view innovation programs as lab-oriented activities. You need to get out there and see first-hand what the customer is interested in, to fill their needs and wants genuinely.
Starkey’s Audio Innovations
Dave has a relatively young staff under him at Starkey. The average first-time hearing aid user is 67 years old. Starkey continually has to adjust their perspective to that of the end-user as they do not see things the same way as their older users might. On top of that, they have to care enough to learn about the patient’s situation. They are increasingly taking in consideration of other elements that the family and users need. One challenge of innovating for an aging population is the intimidation factor.
For me, I had my Starkey’s custom-built to help me hear questions coming from large audiences, and I’m a tech-savvy person. If it were my grandparents in the same situation, it would go right over their heads. Starkey focuses on creating hearing that is useful and effective without much effort from the user. They recently introduced Edge Mode that uses AI technology that provides an acoustic analysis of the situation by just tapping on the device. Starkey has partnered with companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon to take advantage of cloud computing. They also have a feature called thrive care that allows the family to monitor the user’s activity from an app with the user’s permission. They also have Bluetooth features that are compatible with iPhone and Android platforms.
Starkey is continuously working on multi-functionality for its users. One unique challenge is similar to a problem I had at HP, which is battery life. A little bit of optimization makes a big difference, as battery life is only going up 10% a year. At Starkey, they have rapidly changed from regular batteries to rechargeable batteries that give more efficiency to their product. Innovation isn’t about reinventing the wheel but instead thinking about what is in front of you differently.
About our Guest: Dave Fabry
Dave Fabry, Ph.D., is the Chief Innovation Officer at Starkey leading end-to-end innovations within the clinical audiology department. Dave received his Ph.D. in hearing science from the University of Minnesota. Subsequently, he divided his career between academic/clinical roles at the Mayo Clinic, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the University of Miami Medical Center, and several industry positions. He served as President and Board Member of the American Academy of Audiology, and recently, elected to the Board of Directors of the American Auditory Society. Dave has served as Editor-in-Chief of Audiology Today since 2008 and is a past Editor of the American Journal of Audiology and Section Editor of Ear and Hearing. He is a licensed Audiologist in Minnesota, Florida, and Rwanda. His 30+ years of industry experience and proven ability to implement forward-thinking concepts are instrumental in shaping future innovations at Starkey.
To know more about hearing aid technology and other audio innovations, listen to this week's show: Audio Innovations You Can Hear.