We know that the consequences of untreated hearing impairments are progressive deafness, and not just among the elderly. In addition, feeling isolated from the world or experiencing disconnect with family lead to depression. Listen, then, to Neeraj Dotel, CEO of healthcare start-up Quadio Labs (erstwhile Quadio Devices), talk about how the company began business in 2009, making value-for-money hearing aids, before transforming itself into a healthcare technology and services provider and you’ll be reminded that a start-up with a social mission can be a profitable enterprise.

But how is it done? Quadio’s average monthly revenue is about ten times that of previous years.

This seems to directly result from the company being certain about what technology can do for a segment that hasn’t had the various interventions the eye-care segment, for example, has seen.

Any start-up’s primary purpose has to be to solve a problem. Quadio’s app Q+ is available on Android and iOS, and is a response to hearing loss going unchecked in the country. Quadio’s Dotel refers to some alarming numbers: there are 12 crore hearing impaired individuals in India; about half of them need hearing aids, and unfortunately, only 1 per cent of that population uses them. Nearly 20 per cent of that 6 crore suffer from profound hearing loss that needs specialised care. About 80 per cent suffer mild to severe hearing impairment that could benefit from Quadio’s app.

“The app is designed to overcome three issues. First, access to hearing care, and second, affordability of hearing care. A good hearing aid can cost as much as ₹40,000. A third problem it can solve is the stigma attached to wearing hearing aids,” Dotel says.

Challenges aplenty

The potential to serve the hearing impaired segment anywhere in the world is significant. The BRIC countries, Dotel shares, have a low penetration of hearing aids, while in the US, only 25 per cent of the hearing impaired population uses them.

“People have to be encouraged to do something about their hearing loss before other consequences arise. And the other challenge is convincing the medical community that we’re not competing with them. We can actually refer patients to them,” Dotel says, underlining that low adoption of hearing aids is a problem that isn’t going away too easily.