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Pioneering Manila Hearing Aid marks 40th anniversary

By: - Business Features Editor / @tinaarceodumlao
/ 12:10 AM August 14, 2016

All that Dr. Jose F. Abaño Jr. wanted in 1974 was to use his extensive medical training to help his father, a war veteran who had suffered hearing loss following a bout with malaria during his days as a medical officer of the guerrilla troops.

Abaño searched far and wide for the right device to restore his father’s hearing, but he was disappointed to find out that facilities for hearing tests and evaluation were not available, not even in the big hospitals. There was also no professional hearing aid dispensing clinic. Those that did carry hearing aids were optical shops that just sold them over the counter without so much as a basic hearing test.

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The graduate of the University of Santo Tomas was extremely disappointed and helpless, especially since he was exposed to the latest audiological equipment in the United States, being an ENT resident at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center of Queens General Hospital.

The center had a sophisticated diagnostic and care program for those with hearing loss, a type of program that was sorely lacking in the Philippines in 1974.

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That realization as well as the experience with his father gave birth to the idea for Abaño to translate his experience and knowledge into Manila Hearing Aid, a pioneer in the hearing care and service industry that was established in 1976.

“Over there, they had the state-of-the-art facilities. We did not have those here. When I was looking to help my father, I realized that there was a lack of facilities, so I thought that what I worked with in the United States should be here, too,” Abaño told the Inquirer in an interview.

He was joined in his effort by industrial partners whom he met in 1975 as he sought to translate his vision into reality.

These were Sally Kelly, a speech therapist and audiologist, whose husband was a medical student in Manila; Steve Lewis, Chief of Audiology at Clark Air Base Hospital and Herbert Flake, an electronics engineer who had extensive experience in acoustics.

“We sat down and planned the physical setup of a professional audiological clinic with state-of-the-art equipment to help the people here,” said Abaño.

Lewis, unfortunately, went back to the United States after just a few months. Kelly stayed on to handle clinical operations and training of the staff. Flake, meanwhile, took charge of the technical department and calibrated the audiometer, repaired hearing aids, among others. He also trained the center’s first technicians.

“I was in charge of the medical concerns while my wife, an educator and accountant, took care of importation and other financial concerns,” said Abaño, “We had the proper set-up from the audiological and technical point of view. From the start, it was a complete clinic for diagnosis and rehabilitation of patients with hearing loss.”

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The first clinic was set up on Quezon Boulevard with the simple name Manila Hearing Aid, which was a diagnostic facility and a calibrator of equipment.

Since then, Manila Hearing Aid has expanded to 12 clinics, and helped thousands of Filipinos who suffered from a wide range of hearing problems, some caused by the normal aging process.

Abaño shared that based on global statistics, one in every three senior citizens at least 60 years old suffers from some hearing loss. For those at least 80 years old, the ratio goes up to two of three people.

Other causes of hearing loss include noise pollution and the lack of adequate ear protection for workers in places with a high noise level, such as printing presses, factories and music halls.

Along its 40-year journey, it racked up many firsts, such as the establishment of the first professional and complete pediatric hearing assessment facilities in 1977. MHA was also the first in 1978 to be accredited and recognized by the Philippine Society of Otolaryngology, an organization of Ear, Nose and Throat physicians. It was also the first private hearing center to be tapped in 1999 by UST and the University of the Philippines for their students’ training in audiology or the science of hearing. Also, it brought to the country equipment for dizziness and vertigo and most hospitals carry these today.

Abaño said the company had always invested big in equipment as the practice relies heavily on the accuracy of tests. MHA has thus become an authority when it comes to calibration of audiological equipment.

“We are proud to have set up the audiological facilities in major hospitals all over the country. Most of them use instruments from Interacoustics, which is the world’s largest manufacturer. We have been the sole distributor of Interacoustics for 40 years and we are considered the oldest distributor in Asia,” he said.

MHA has also developed a reputation for providing the most accurate hearing tests for the corporate sector, as many companies want to find out the noise level in their operations.

Abaño stressed that industrial noise was a significant threat to workers, especially in the Philippines where not all companies feel they need to invest in the safety of the people, be it in ear protectors or equipment to bring down the shop floor’s noise level.

For Abaño, who was named Pioneer in ENT and Audiology in the Philippines by the Philippine Society of Audiology in 2010, MHA was able to maintain its dominance of the market because it does not rest on its laurels and seeks to stay ahead of the market.

Abaño’s children share the same mindset and this will prove crucial as they open a new chapter in the history of MHA.

His eldest daughter, Ana Maria Abaño, is general manager, while the youngest, Dr. Liza Abaño-Robles, works as chief audiologist and clinic operations head.

Eldest son Dr. Joel G. Abaño works as marketing medical consultant while youngest son, Jose Ramon Abaño, is technical head for repair and calibration.

“In this industry, service is key,” said Ana, “Every couple of years, we modernize our facilities. We always think of ways to take better care of our patients. We put a premium on training so that we will be able to give accurate test results. That is also we why we invest in the latest and the best laboratory facilities.”

Abaño added: “We exist for our customers and I believe we were able to establish a name in the industry that says we are not just about the commercial aspect but more importantly about service, about helping our patients.”

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TAGS: audiology, Dr. Jose F. Abaño, ENT, Manila Hearing Aid, medicine, UST
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