Hearing aids reach the internet

'YES - ON THE INTERNET...'

Start-up mail order firm Augmentics Ltd is promising to cut the price of digital hearing aids, typically between £2,000 and £3,000. The firm will use a website and mail order to keep costs down.

It also offers a "cloning" service for people wanting a replacement, or back-up, for their existing aid. Customers send in their existing hearing aid and Augmentics's computer system will copy the hearing aid program onto a new hearing aid. The original and the copy are then sent to the customer. Prices for such clones should be between 30 per cent and 50 per cent cheaper than a traditional replacement.

Company founder and chief exec Richard Hathway said: "I hit 50 and decided to have a look around at something else to do. The technology in digital hearing aids is not that different to the mobile phone industry. But there's been nominal growth in the market despite more baby boomers needing hearing aids, I think this is down to price."

Until January this year Hathway was senior technologist at mobile maker Sendo. He is an engineer but also passed his Hearing Aid Council exams.

Only one-in-ten people who could benefit from a digital hearing aid actually have one - a figure Augmentics blames on high prices. But the website stresses that would-be customers must have visited a dispenser or hospital before making an order. And they will need to return to that dispenser once the hearing aid arrives. All hearing aids will be sent out inactivated so customers will have to visit a dispenser to get them switched on and set correctly. Although this will add £250 to £500 to the price Augmentics is confident it can still save people money. The firm has one dispensing centre in Evesham, Worcestershire.

Augmentics is also in talks with venture capitalists to get funding for its own mass market digital hearing aid. ®

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