AO/Beck: Hi Rick. Thanks for your time this evening. I'd like to explore a bit about you and Ear Technology Corporation, and I'd like to learn about the Dry & Store product specifically. Gilbert: Sure Doug. Thanks for the opportunity. AO/Beck: Let's start with your professional education. Gilbert: I am actually a chemist by training and by formal education, and I've managed high technology firms for the better part of 30 years. AO/Beck: When did you join Ear Tech? Gilbert: I've been with them from the start, since the summer of 1997, starting as the director of sales and marketing. In 1998, I became the general manager. AO/Beck: As an observer, it appears like you guys came out of nowhere and have sky-rocketed into the profession very quickly. Gilbert: Yes, the early successes have been very gratifying. We initially thought we were augmenting the existing accessory market with a better mousetrap - the Dry & Store hearing aid conditioning system. We quickly learned that we were actually creating a new market, and in the process we were changing the attitudes and opinions of the industry regarding preventive care. From the start, we committed to marketing to the hearing health care profession, not to consumers. So, involvement in the profession is an important part of our strategy. AO/Beck: When was the first Dry & Store commercially available and how did it come about? Gilbert: We shipped the first product in November, 1997, so we just celebrated our third anniversary. Dry & Store was invented by Dan Schumaier, Ph.D., the president of our company. Dan is widely regarded as being the country's second dispensing audiologist, starting his practice back in the days when it was considered unethical to dispense - so he's been at this a long time. As a result of having such a busy practice, he found it frustrating that there were no reliable products on the market to help protect and preserve the investment the patient had made in hearing aids, so he literally built one from the ground up almost in self defense. He sketched out the first design in 1993, and he currently has three patents on Dry & Store-which we call a hearing aid conditioning system because it is much more than a dryer. AO/Beck: Is the product which is available today the same as the product which was released in 1997? Gilbert: The technology and operations of the product are the same, but the electronics inside have been constantly improved. The current system is digital. The original circuitry used resistor/capacitor timing, which gave us good results, but imperfect timing of the operating cycles. The current model is microprocessor-controlled, so the germicidal and operating cycles are timed exactly. We've made some other changes to the electronics such as improved protection from transient electrical spikes, and we added an even quieter fan when we switched to partial DC internals. So the new version is truly much improved! We realize the consumer and the dispensing audiologist might not notice the changes, but we thought they were important for the reliability and quality of the product, which is made here in Tennessee. AO/Beck: I use the Dry & Store in the office. The claims made in the insert, regarding longer battery life, longer hearing aid life, better quality of sound from the hearing aid and other claims are very impressive. However - I have to wonder, where did these statements come from? Who did the R and D? Gilbert: Yes, thanks for asking. That's a great question and I appreciate the concern and the motivation in asking it! We have done lots of statistically valid sampling of Dry & Store users drawn from those who returned the warranty registration card. Also, we've done similar sampling of hundreds of dispensing professionals, and the data is supportive of the conclusions. We have a huge book of unsolicited testimonials as well, and we quote some of these folks in our support materials. AO/Beck: Based on those sources, what information can you tell me is directly attributable to the end users? Gilbert: The end-users are very pleased, to say the least. We have done two samplings in the last 18 months. We sent out a questionnaire to some 300 patients using a random number generator to select recipients across the USA and Canada. We had a remarkable return rate of 71 percent. AO/Beck: I've never heard of such a high rate of return, that is impressive. Gilbert: Yes, and we firmly believe that reflects the end-users' enthusiasm for the product and the results they've experienced. They are passionate about Dry & Store and want to let us - and their friends - know what it's done for them. AO/Beck: What were the questions and the findings from the survey? Gilbert: We asked a series of questions, for instance, Does your hearing aid sound better since you've been using Dry & Store? 77 percent of the answers were yes . We attribute this to the fact that when moisture builds up on the diaphragm of the microphone and the receiver, this results in a damped response of the hearing aid, specifically in the high frequencies. Removing that moisture brings back the highs. The next question was If you had itchy ears or recurring ear infections, has Dry & Store use helped reduce the ear problems ? 72 percent of the patients responded that Dry & Store helped reduce the itching and recurring ear infections, based on their personal experience. This question was based on field reports and a hypothesis which Dr. Carl Crandell (from the University of Florida) mentioned to Dan and me during a flight back from AAA in 1998. It presumes that itchy ears are in part probably due to sub-clinical levels of bacterial growth on the hearing aids. As you know, we have a germicidal lamp in the Dry & Store which effectively kills bacteria and other flora that grows on the hearing aid and/or earmold. You might remember there are three levels of UV light. UV-A and UV-B you're familiar with regarding sunlight protection, but the third realm is UV-C, the germicidal spectrum. The Dry & Store lamp produces non-ozone forming light in the 254 nanometer wavelength, a wavelength that destroys the nucleus of bacteria or other problem-causing flora, including fungal and yeast growth. A side benefit is that combined with the odor scavenger that is a part of our desiccant, our germicidal cycle helps reduce or eliminate the odor which sometimes accompanies the hearing aid. But the greatest benefit of the germicidal cycle is preventing the reintroduction of bugs back into the external ear canal via the hearing aid. Three out of four users have experienced this benefit according to the surveys. The next question was based on battery life. Let me give you a little history on this question. In 1997, we contacted the three major battery manufacturers and explained that our product operates at around 20 percent relative humidity and 95 degrees Farenheit. All of the manufacturers said the battery had to be removed from the hearing aid prior to placing the hearing aid in the Dry & Store. That made sense and that was what we wrote in the instructions. But some end-users didn't read the entire booklet and many of them kept the batteries in the hearing aids while using Dry & Store. We subsequently began getting anecdotal evidence that their batteries were lasting longer. Then in Spring of 1998 we got a call from Eveready, who wanted to run a test on battery life using the Dry & Store unit we provided. They found that at a relative humidity of 50 percent, batteries stored for eight hours in Dry & Store gave the same capacity as the batteries left at ambient, i.e. there was no deleterious effect. For the batteries tested in an 85 percent environment, batteries stored for eight hours in Dry & Store gave 10-20 percent more capacity than those left for eight hours in the high humidity environment. Incidentally, they used industry standard discharge rates for the testing. Those results were reinforced by our user survey, in which we asked the end users, do your batteries last longer since you began using Dry & Store ? 54 percent of the responders said yes. So now our operating instructions instruct users to leave the batteries in, with the battery compartment open. Users love that! Another question addressed experienced hearing aid users who had had distortion, failures or other performance issues that required service of the hearing aids. 67 percent of the end-users said the Dry & Store was helpful in reducing these specific problems. The final question was related to how the end-user described their feelings about Dry & Store. We had 97.8 percent of the users say they were satisfied with the product. Two out of three of those respondents used the term outstanding or very satisfied . AO/Beck: 98 percent of the hearing aid wearers agreeing on anything is very impressive! That's a diverse group of people with typically tremendous variation in their likes and dislikes. Rick, does the Dry & Store do anything at all regarding cerumen in the hearing aid? Gilbert: Yes it does, and frankly we were surprised by how well it works. Because the unit is a conditioning system which combines three unique drying technologies, it does impact cerumen management. Basically, cerumen has a significant moisture content. Used regularly, Dry & Store removes the moisture from the cerumen and you get shrinkage of the cerumen itself. Additionally, once the cerumen is dry, it can fall out and flake off with normal brushing and cleaning. This was confirmed by another survey directed to hearing health care professionals only. 86 percent of the professional survey respondents rated Dry & Store as outstanding or very good regarding drying cerumen. 100 percent of this same professional group, by the way, rated our product great or very good at moisture removal, and 87 percent said they had noticed a huge difference or very noticeable decline in the need for repairs from their patients who regularly use Dry & Store. Finally, Dry & Store received a 100 percent satisfaction rating among those who responded to the survey, 90 percent of whom rated it as Outstanding or Very Satisfied. It will be hard for us to improve on 100 percent! AO/Beck: Tell me about perspiration and condensation as it relates to hearing aids? Gilbert: I think most of us assume that hearing aids load up with moisture because of perspiration, and that's partially true. However, probably the bigger factor is that the hearing aid is essentially a closed container which is subject to vast temperature changes that can cause condensation in and on the hearing instrument. For example, if a patient enters an air conditioned room from an outside environment of say, 90 degrees and 60 percent relative humidity, the dewpoint is reached when the temperature falls below 74 or 75 degrees. It actually rains inside the hearing aid under these conditions, which interestingly enough are very close to the ambient conditions inside the ear canal. If you talk to hearing aid manufacturers, they'll tell you that between 30 and 80 percent of all hearing aid failures are caused by moisture. Dr. Schumaier's research found that it takes a combination of three things to dry the interior of a sealed chamber: you need a controlled amount of heat to break the surface tension, you need a great deal of air flow around the product, and you need a desiccant to absorb the displaced moisture. All three of these technologies are combined in Dry & Store. AO/Beck: Rick, this really is a fantastic product and I know my patients are very satisfied too. Nonetheless, the unit is a bit expensive - any hope the price will come down in the near future? Gilbert: The original product was designed as a desk-top model. Although it's done incredibly well, there has been demand for a portable/travel model, which we'll be introducing this Spring. The new Global unit will be smaller and less expensive and will be dual voltage, capable of being used anywhere in the world. It will be the model that we export, so by this time next year you'll see Dry & Store all over the world, and we're really excited about that! It'll have a perforated desiccant canister so it will be rechargeable in the conventional oven, and that will help increase the portability and lower the cost. The desktop, or Classic, model will still be our flagship product. AO/Beck: Rick, for the reader who wants to find out more about the product, how do they contact you? Gilbert: They can call our toll free number 1-800-327-8547 or they can visit the website at www.eartech.com. Or they can email me directly at email@example.com. AO/Beck: Thanks Rick. I appreciate your time this evening. Gilbert: Thank you Doug. All of us at Ear Technology give our best regards to you and your readers for the holiday season. For more information please visit: www.dryandstore.com Healthy Hearing (www.healthyhearing.com) is grateful to the author and Audiology Online for allowing us to republish this material on Healthy Hearing.