Chears Audiology opens on Eat Street

Kim Fishman takes custom ear impressions for Scott, who mixes sound on the Zac Brown Band tour. He uses inner-ear monitors, which he describes as “earbuds on steroids.”

Since Kim Fishman moved her business from St. Louis Park to Eat Street, she’s fielded more requests from the music industry to be fitted for inner-ear monitors. One recent request came from the Zac Brown Band tour. She traveled to the basement of Target Field to take ear impressions of the tour’s production manager and other staff.

“There’s no way they don’t have hearing loss,” she said as the stadium soundcheck started.

Fishman said it’s important to treat more people for hearing loss. Just 20 percent of people who could benefit from hearing aids use them, according to the National Institutes of Health. Studies by researchers at Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging found that seniors with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia and see higher risk of falls, hospitalizations and diminished health overall.

Fishman wants to see hearing aids become more affordable, and that’s part of the reason she moved to Eat Street. Located near a bus station and with a dedicated parking lot, she wants the clinic to be more accessible to people of all income levels. She “un-bundles” services to make them more affordable, offering a store where customers can shop for hearing aids and use customer service or clinic services as needed.

“We should have a product for everybody,” she said.

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In 2015, President Barack Obama’s science and technology advisors found that cost is a huge barrier for hearing aids. Most insurance plans don’t cover them. The group recommended that the Food and Drug Administration approve a basic over-the-counter hearing aid. President Donald Trump signed bipartisan over-the-counter hearing aid legislation into law in 2017. The FDA is working to finalize new regulation by the summer of 2020.

Fishman looks forward to someday carrying over-the-counter hearing aids. She cautioned that hearing amplifiers purchased online and at retail stores are not FDA-approved, and some are dangerous for the ears.

She created her new retail store at 2639 Nicollet Ave. with popular phone stores in mind.

“My goal is to try to make hearing cool,” she said. “Hearing aids have a lot of fun technology in them. They stream to phones. … The hearing technology today is super thin and easy and you can’t even see them.”

Fishman has done ear impressions to create hearables for Twins players, so they can protect their hearing and stream music as they travel. New hearing technology allows people to answer telephone calls or adjust the audio settings through their phones. Some hearables coming on the market aren’t related to hearing loss at all, and they can stream music and check heart rates or numbers of steps.

“We’re getting a few starting right now,” Fishman said. “It’s the next thing. So you’ll have one eventually.”

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