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3D Ear Scanning: Digital Impressions For Custom-Fit Hearing Solutions

Paul Harkness, CEO of Lantos Technologies, delves into this state-of-the-art technology. Highlighting the advantages of safety and accuracy for both the consumer and the professional.



A conversation with Paul Harkness from Lantos, that's our topic today on Ask The Hearing Doctors.




Hi. I'm, Jim Cuddy.  And this is Ask The Hearing Doctors. And I’m joined today by Dr. Jenna Loffredo, doctor of audiology with Hearing Doctors, the Washington DC area's highest-rated audiology practice with over 1500, five-star reviews. And we're also joined today by Paul Harkness, CEO of Lantos Technology. Jenna, good to see you. Paul, welcome. Thank you for having me.


All right so Paul, why don't we start off by having you tell us a little bit about Lantos. Maybe a little bit of the history and certainly the technology that you all are known for.


Excellent. Thank you for having me here. Very happy to be partnering with Dr. Anzola and her team here at Hearing Doctors. So, Lantos Technologies actually has been in technology terms of around 10 years. Born out of MIT.  Heavily patented and yet just commercial more recently. What we do is we take a digital picture of the inside of someone's ear with a very comfortable process for the patient. And then allows the practice to have a different broader relationship with their patients. We believe it helps elevate the patient experience and the practice itself because of this very custom experience and offering.


Now you mentioned you've been around for 10 years but your your business model is different now correct?


It is. I'm glad you brought that up. So, ultimately over many years the the work went into creating the scanner, the technology, making it commercially viable. More recently, just earlier this year we changed the business model to make it more possible for practices everywhere to make it part of their workflow. And so the big changes are this, we manufacture a scanner that people use, we manufacture the balloon membrane that goes into the ear that inflates to capture the digital geometry, but we no longer sell the scanner. In the past, we were selling it like a printer and we would make a one-time sale and we move on to our next opportunity. In reality, our whole business model now is around usage. Is around making digital scanning real for patients every day in the office. So what that means is there's no capital outlay anymore for practices to get involved. We've removed that burden. And we're really hyper-focused now on finding people that are committed to doing this every day with their teams. And then they're agreeing to purchase a certain number of the balloon membranes without having to buy the scanner.


So, Paul let's back it up a little bit. Your talking about this balloon membrane we're putting into somebody's ear. What is the purpose? What are, what are we trying to accomplish with that?


Several things, but let's start here. We believe that practice differentiation really equals patient satisfaction. And over the last many years we've moved patients away from custom. So,  whether it's a custom device inside their ear or it's a product that goes over their ear and has a mold inside their ear, we've moved away from this to using now something that's easier and faster to put in their ear. Which are the three size, which I say, fit none domes. And so the reality is, the big question we have to ask is, do patients really prefer custom? Do they want custom or is it just easier for us as practitioners? 


Our belief is with some studies that we've done, patients have always preferred custom. As consumers, we prefer custom experiences. And our technology allows us to get back to that and provide that to the patients. When we do that, the practices that have worked with us in the past including this practice here have shown increased patient retention. Studies in the industry say that every other patient chooses a new place to buy their next set of hearing aids. If we can reduce that, that propensity, increase that patient retention, that would be significant for the practice. 


Also, many practices are taking measurements of themselves through NPS scores, Net Promoter Scores. We've seen dramatic improvements for practices that are utilizing things like digital ear scanning because patients feel differently about their practice. About working with that office. They feel like they're in the right place. They feel like they're getting something truly unique. 


And Jenna, from a clinical standpoint talk about the experience for, for the average person that's coming in to see you.


Absolutely, so I think you brought up a really great point about how our patients that come in are really excited about the technology that we have here. They feel like they are getting the best. And we deliver the best because they deserve the best. That starts with just looking at a digital video otoscope. Patients are always fascinated to see, “oh is that, is that what the inside of my ear looks like?” We take that to the next level with that earmold impression. So earmold impressions across the industry are typically taken with the silicone material. And for that, that experience is cool for them because it's creating a custom model. Now we take that custom model and really bring it into this 21st century where we are able to create a digital scan of their ear canal.


So every, everyone's ear canal is different. Just like everyone's hearing loss is unique and different as well. So, by creating this project, this product for patients we assure that we are giving them a perfect fit for their product. We have a lot of patients here that really enjoy the custom products. They continue to come back to us for the custom products that we're able to make for them. And this ensures from our provider standpoint that we are giving them perfection. This allows us to have a better impression of their ear canal which then leads to a better product with the companies that we work with for their hearing aids.


So, does the 3D ear scanning replace or is it in addition to - how does this work? Is this, is this the next way of of scanning somebody's ear now?


Great question. So, silicone or some sort of solution of that type to take an impression has been part of the hearing field for over a century. Wow!  Far too long. We have come so far with the technology that we put into the device itself and yet we're still taking impressions the same way. Until now. So, that alone will allow patients to feel like the investment they're making in the technology also is going to go to make sure that the prescription that the audiology team puts into that device is held inter into their ear properly. With uh with an earpiece that really fits their ear.


To answer your question though, we're really not trying to replace silicone. Effectively it will. But if if you were to ask the the audiologist here on this team, they actually do more custom work here. Most practices are doing far, far less than they have in the past in terms of custom overall. So, if we simply replace silicone we haven't really created the movement we're expecting to. 


Help me understand why there would be so few taking advantage of this? Because to me, I would think the 3D scanning is going to be a much more in-depth, much finer look and it's going to obviously be a better fit. Are are they afraid of the new technology? Is it, a you know if aint broke don't fix sort of attitude? Where, where's the uh, where's the methodology and thinking there?


Again three years scanning isn't going to just replace silicone because far fewer people are even using silicone. We believe what's happening for the most part is we're fitting patients with manufacturer determined domes. That are not custom-made. Some of them fit. Many of them don't. This is what we hope to change. 


We have decided for patients, as an industry, that they don't need custom over these many years. We're suggesting that's actually not the case. That patients want them. They're looking at us as the experts to give them what we recommend. We need to give them back what they prefer. What we all prefer as consumers. Absolutely. And something that's really wonderful about this process for the custom products is there are some that are worried “oh, I don't want my custom product to be too big”. But you touched on this a little bit ago where you mentioned that the custom product with that really fine measurement.


So, I want to talk about how Lantos gives us that really detailed measurement. That us as audiologists and perfectionists sometimes really crave. So, what the technology does is like you were saying, there's a little balloon membrane that goes into the ear. It's non-invasive and it's very comfortable for the patient. And I can also speak on that as I’ve had it done to my ear multiple times. And what it does is it puts a balloon into your ear and it just really forms to the shape of your ear canal. A little camera goes in into that balloon and takes digital pictures or scans of the ear canal. That camera is then removed and then we're able to send over to all of our hearing aid companies the custom mold of your ear canal. 


Something that's really nice about this product that we utilize here with the digital scanning is we can make IIC devices or completely invisible devices that we have some lawmakers utilize. We also have physicians that utilize these really tiny devices because they like to put a stethoscope on top of their hearing aids. We feel more confident giving them a solid product to work with because we're giving them this digital scan for the companies to then work with. So that we can program it appropriately for our patients. It is fascinating technology. It really is. And you were going to say something else. Jim and Jim imagine this. So, all of that is true and you did a great job explaining that, thank you.


I think the other thing that's really important big picture. When you take a silicone impression you use it. You send it to the manufacturer, they build something with it, it's gone. When you take a digital impression, a digital scan, it now lives in the practice here. And now you can work with that patient for a variety of uses, over years if you so choose. So, certainly you can use that scan send it off digitally by the way, not through the mail, not with time, not with postage. Efficiency gains as you can see. But the manufacturers can build a hearing aid. They can build a custom mold for your RIC, Receiver-in-Canal devices that they fit a ton of here. You also can get custom earmolds made for sleep plugs, swim plugs, uh hearing protection, in-ear monitors for a lot of musicians. Which I know are they have several patients in that arena as well. And with the one scan that patient doesn't have to come back every time they want to think about what next product that they want. They literally can work with the office virtually to make those decisions. That is why we believe it allows the practice to literally own the ear of their patients in a way that they just simply can't get over the counter or in other places that don't offer this technology.


Yeah, I mean obviously you're not going into a big box store and measuring anything, uh as far as I know anyway. Correct. And we have to go to an audiologist's office at least and and here it's beyond what would be done in a lot of audiology practices, right? I mean. Absolutely. This is, this is amazing technology. 


And that custom-fit, I would assume that most of the patients that you see, Jenna, would want that. Is that the case? Or are there people that no, no, no I’m good with, I'm good with going to the big box store and just plugging something in my ear?


Absolutely, absolutely. And in working with different hearing aid companies that know that we have this technology here, they are really excited, too. They know their product is beneficial for patients when there's that custom component. They know that they're able to deliver a product that's giving patients the sound that they need and deserve what they're hearing. 


So, something that we have discussed with our patients is giving them the experience because we do get a lot “Well, what can you give me here?” And this is one of the main things that we as a practice are able to deliver for our patients. And nine times out of ten they're always going to want that custom product. And as you mentioned we're able to deliver that to them much quicker now. It used to be that we would take us a mold. We would send it off to the company. The company would then create the hearing aid and then they would mail it back to us. We know that when we're excited about something we want it as quick as possible. So our goal is to have our patients in our office for their initial discussion or their demo or their earmold impression and then we would love to see them back the next week. 


This scanning really allows us to have patients come into our office quicker and hear better much faster than somewhere else. We're able to send these digital scans out to a company and they're able to start creating whether it be a custom earmold, a hearing aid itself. For our musicians that are “I need to get on the road next week what can you do for me?”, all of those patients we’re able to just deliver to them faster. Yeah, that's a huge, huge bonus right there.


Paul let me ask you, are there certain customers or practices that you are or are not focused on?


Yes, we're heavily targeted on who we want to represent us. We want to partner with very purposeful. And so in this area we clearly believe that as you mentioned earlier that Dr. Anzola's practice Hearing Doctors is where we want to be. This is our focus, and we want to provide this office with just another reason to separate themselves from experiences patient patients can get elsewhere. 


All right. So Paul, what are some other key benefits of Lantos technology for patients? 


I think a crucial one for patients is around comfort and comfortability through the process. They don't particularly care about, care for, the silicone impression taking procedure. And with the 3D scanner from Lantos, with our proprietary, one of its kind balloon membrane, the inflation process highly comfortable and also hypoallergenic. 


And something that's really wonderful that we pride ourselves here as clinical audiologists and as professionals in the field, is being able to deliver the best for our patients. We've said that a couple times throughout this entire podcast. That we want to give our patients what they deserve. When we prescribe here, when we do hearing aid prescriptions, what we're doing is we're taking a lot of different factors to give them that unique listening experience. The way we feel we do it best is by giving them that custom mold. When we're giving them that prescription and all the sounds that they need and all the sounds that their brain craves we are able to do that through this custom process. 


When the patient comes in for their appointment we take an impression of their ear and what we're able to do, like we said, we send it off to the company to create that custom product. And then we as clinical audiologists take it from there. So, we do that prescription for the patient. We verify that the device is working appropriately, the way that it should be. And the way that we can assure that all of that sound is getting to the patient is with this custom product. 


I mean is it fair to say that silicon is, is not as good as the 3D technology? Right. I mean that's, that's what I’m hearing anyway.


Certainly it's more accurate, more comfortable to achieve. Much more accurate. But I think I want to reframe it this way. It allows the practice to work differently, as we mentioned, with that patient going forward. A silicone impression can be effective. It's a one-time use. Right. With a digital, digital impression gathering that digital geometry, one time, allows you to work with that patient going forward in a variety of ways. 


Well here's the other thing that gets to me gets me too is that if you have a choice if I’m going to go to an audiologist practice that has the Lantos 3D technology or I’m going to go to one that just has the silicon I want to go where I’m going to get the absolute best fit where I know I’m going to get 100percent of what I’ve been missing. I mean is that sort of the feeling you get from, from patients? 


Absolutely. And something that we have been experiencing, ever since we've implemented this technology, is the fit of the device compared to a standard earmold. So when you have a standard earmold or a custom product we want to make sure we have a nice deep fit so that as we're talking and chewing and laughing with our family and friends that that hearing aid isn't working itself out. We found that with the Lantos technology that patients have a much better retention of the aid itself. Even with those really tiny devices. They feel that once they put it in that it's not going anywhere. They're confident that they're not missing any of those crucial conversations that they're having. And it's more comfortable for them. So, not only is it more comfortable during the process of making the custom product. It's also the product itself is more comfortable because that retention is secure for them. 


And Jim, just to reiterate the point one more time it's not just the comparison of a digital scan from Lantos and silicon which has been done as I said for over a century. It's the fact that most offices that a patient could go to aren't even using silicone. They're not offering custom at all. They're using these three size, might fit you domes. So, I think the what's what's important for the patient to know is that this practice is heavily focused on the patient experience. And part of that is providing a true custom fit device, whatever that device is. 


So Paul, Jenna referenced the, the speed with, with which you get these things back and into that patient's ear. And you know and they get to go and enjoy their life again um, with hearing. Is this it for the technology or are there other places this technology can go for that patient or their or is this it I mean? 


I’m glad you asked that question. The digital makeup of what we do is going to make the whole patient experience different, I believe. Not just in capturing the digital geometry but how we can deliver. So already just by removing the silicone impression and doing this digitally, where a file is sent to a manufacturer immediately, they can start creating it right away. But imagine a world, which is not that far away, where that impression, digital impression is modeled in the cloud somewhere. And then they can literally print a custom earmold right here. So that could be same day, that could be next day whatever works with the flow. 


Nothing more frustrating for a patient than working with a busy practice and having to wait one week, two weeks, a month. The practice has to explain as best they can why the manufacturer is taking so long. In many cases, this removes all of that. I don't think it's that far away. And again patient experience for those practices that get on board that we have purposely decided to target and work with, it's really going to set them apart. 


One thing I wanted to mention from what an earlier question that you brought up, Jim, was we have as a company at Lantos, decided that the professional channel and then within that a highly targeted group of people we respect will be the people we focus on. Which means that places you can go to get a less expensive, transactional uh experience we aren't going to offer this technology there. We really believe that consumers want to work with an expert and so we're only going to arm the experts that we want to work with and vice versa with this technology. 


I don't do my own eyes. I don't do my own teeth. I you know it only makes sense that you would go to a professional for your hearing as well. And I imagine that quick turnaround you were talking about, a week, all of a sudden you're printing them in your own office potentially. How much bigger is a smile on that patient? 


They are amazed at how quick we are able to deliver custom products at the timeline we're doing it right now with Lantos. They're amazed at the technology it's it lives in our room where we do our demonstrations. Where we do our hearing tests. And the first question is “What is that cool thing?”. And I’m always like do you want to see the inside of your ear? Let's make you a custom product. And the nice thing is, is they're able to be a part of that experience too. 


Something that you mentioned about just a quick transaction. That doesn't exist here. We allow them to be a part of that decision and by making a custom product they're able to see it happen. They're able to see that scan and then a week later come back and see a product. It's really incredible and we're so grateful that we have the opportunity to be a part of this life-changing custom product. It's fascinating technology. 


It's wonderful work that you're doing. Appreciate you taking the time to teach us a little bit more about it and we look forward to what's coming down the road. Thank you. Thank you for the time. Jenna, thank you. Thank you.


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