LA Talk Radio The Start Up Interviews Dr. Cherukuri

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In an interview with Monique Lore of LA Talk Radio’s show The Start Up, Dr. Sreek Cherukuri, an ear, nose, and throat doctor based in Chicago, discusses his journey and innovations in the field of hearing aids and hearing loss prevention.

Dr. Cherukuri initially founded a company to provide low-cost hearing aids, addressing the high cost barrier for many, with over 300,000 hearing aids sold. Despite selling this business in 2017, he continued to explore why, even with more accessible pricing and availability, a significant portion of Americans with hearing loss do not use hearing aids.

His research led him to conclude that traditional hearing aids do not meet the needs of many with hearing loss.

Dr. Cherukuri emphasizes the importance of hearing loss prevention, particularly highlighting the risks associated with loud noise exposure from a young age, such as through headphones or at concerts. He advocates for the “60 60 rule” to mitigate damage: listening at no more than 60% volume for no longer than 60 minutes at a time.

Addressing the limitations of traditional hearing aids, Dr. Cherukuri introduces ClearCast PAL™, a new type of hearing device designed to be more accessible, affordable, and suitable for those who find conventional hearing aids unsatisfactory.

Unlike typical hearing aids, the ClearCast PAL™ is worn around the neck and offers a simple, user-friendly experience without the need for intricate adjustments or compatibility with smartphones. It aims to cater to individuals who seek to improve their hearing without the stigma or inconvenience associated with traditional devices.

Dr. Cherukuri’s approach represents a shift towards more inclusive and adaptable hearing loss solutions, reflecting a broader understanding of the diverse needs and preferences within the hearing-impaired community. His work highlights the importance of innovation in medical technology to enhance quality of life, making hearing assistance more attainable and appealing for a wider audience.

Transcription

Monique Lore: I have a very special guest. Hello, sir. Mr. Sreek, Cherukuri. I want you to say it. So I do not, butcher you’re your beautiful name.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: Sreek Cherukuri.

Monique Lore: Shriek Cherukuri. Welcome doctor. Finally, we meet and I apologize about the winds here. I can only control so much. Welcome to the startup. How are you?

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: Great. How are you?

Monique Lore: I’m good. Thank you so much for being great and being here. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us exactly about your brand and what you’re up to these days.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: I am an ear, nose, and throat doctor here in Chicago, and years ago, I realized that hearing aids were very expensive, so I started a low cost manufacturing and reseller of our hearing aids, and we did really well with that company.

We actually sold that business in 2017, but what I realized in the subsequent years is there’s a lot of people, even though we lowered the price and you could order hearing aids on the internet back then, now you can even get them at drugstores or Best Buy type stores. There’s a huge number of people, specifically out of 40 million people with hearing loss in America alone, only 24 percent wear hearing aids.

And it got me thinking, now that they’re cheap, now that they’re easily accessible, why, why is that? And it turns out my research and my conclusion was, hearing aids aren’t the right product for a lot of people with hearing loss.

Monique Lore: Wow. So you’re in the hearing prevention business, or you’re finding One size doesn’t fit all, and everybody’s hearing situation is different.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: That’s exactly right. Yep, we are in both the prevention and the treatment business as a physician. We see all sorts of problems.

Monique Lore: Wow! Okay, good! Well done, because you know, I just turned 46, and There’s a lot of interesting things happening, including me with headphones in the airport quite frequently, and I know that I’m going to pay for that on the back end, if not the front end.

Where can we meet with, well, what can we do as people to prevent? Hearing loss and being in your office, although it sounds like we’re going to find, pun intended, we’re going to find ourselves in your office at some point. What do you recommend for people to be proactive about their hearing?

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: So there’s really one main thing you can do, and it’s in our younger days when we feel invincible, it’s very important to be cognizant of loud noise exposure.

And that happens in a few different ways for the typical, starting in your teenage years, you might have headphones in your ears. And at least back in my day, we’d like, you know, we’d like to listen to it quite loud, even loud enough that someone not wearing the headphone could hear it.

Monique Lore: Yep, yep.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: After months and months of doing that you can suffer some permanent noise induced hearing loss at a young age that won’t necessarily affect you till your 30s or 40s, but it’s irreversible, permanent nerve damage.

Thank you. The other common exposure could be nightclubs or concerts. Sometimes those are extremely loud. So I always tell people kind of two things on those preventative areas. In terms of the headphones, it’s called the 60 60 rule. 60 percent of the maximum volume or less. And then every 60 minutes take a break so your ears get a little rest.

Monique Lore: Wow, the 66 year old. I am not applying that right now, which I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed. I am going to apply that now and, and put my, my headphones there, you know, on a timer. I mean, so now you’re in Chicago. Why don’t you tell us, Is your perfect, you know, who’s your perfect client today? If we were looking for someone that could come into your offices and, and, and take advantage of your knowledge and, and what you provide.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: So in terms of hearing loss, and we do encourage anyone that thinks they’re having trouble hearing or they hear ringing in their ears or buzzing sounds, they should see a doctor like myself, an ear, nose, throat doctor and get a hearing test. That, that is what we recommend, whether it’s a young person or an older person.

You know, certainly my focus on the new business ClearCastHearing. com is we’re focusing on getting older people different opportu options in the hearing loss market, not just hearing aid.

Monique Lore: Great. Great. How did you start, Doctor? What was your, what was your motivation to, I know that you said that you, you know, you looked into the, you shared a little bit, but what’s your background?

Like where, where did you start off? Why don’t you share that with the listeners and viewers?

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: Certainly. So, born and raised in Michigan. I went to University of Michigan for undergraduate studies as well as medical school. And then went into what’s called ear, nose, and throat, or otolaryngology is the medical word, in Detroit, Henry Ford Health System.

And here’s what’s interesting. So, I spent four years of college, four years of medical school, five years of training as a surgeon. And it wasn’t until I started my first job in 2003 that I was told by patients that hearing aids are very expensive and they weren’t covered by insurance.

Monique Lore: Wow.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: I had no idea.

And I actually think most doctors don’t know that. I think most families don’t know that. Medicare recipients don’t know that until they need the benefit and then they find that it’s not covered by Medicare or most insurance companies.

Monique Lore: Wow. That is interesting. Also, I guess out of sight, out of ear, I mean, I’m punning all day guys.

You’re stuck with me, but what, what is the average cost so that my listeners and viewers aren’t caught off guard when they need, if, and when they’ll need one for themselves or their loved one.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: So, prescription hearing aids, the type you’d get at a doctor or audiologist’s office, can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars a pair up to eight thousand dollars a pair.

Monique Lore: Wait, say that again?

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: That’s right, a few thousand dollars a pair to eight thousand dollars a pair or more. And for a lot of seniors on fixed income, that will be the most expensive purchase they make in their lifetime. Rest of their life. Like they’ve all, you know, they, except maybe a car, like they’re not buying.

Monique Lore: I mean, my car, I wish my car was wow. Okay. So hold on a minute. I’ve got to digest this. So it looks like we’re getting a little dark because the winds are moving. So I’m going to scoot this way, guys, so you can see me a little bit, pardon my shift. But so I think what I’m hearing you say, Doctor, is that these hearing aids, because once you need one, you really need one, right?

Yeah,

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: so hearing loss creeps up. It’s not like you notice it right away in most cases. It’s a gradual process over five to seven years. You start to miss more and more things. You ask people to repeat themselves. And oftentimes it’s the family member, spouse, or co worker that will say, Hey, you’re not hearing very well.

You might want to get that checked out. It can creep up on you. Whereas the opposite, we always link vision and hearing together, but right, right away when we can’t see the computer screen or our phone or our book, we know something’s wrong and we are highly motivated to, to go to the doctor or the optometrist and get that checked out.

Hearing that is tricky because there’s no, you don’t know what you’re not hearing. And some of the subconscious responses like what and how you don’t even really pay attention to.

Monique Lore: Right, right. Oh my goodness. I, I’m so grateful for this knowledge. Where can people find and follow and support you? Where can people book if they’re in the Chicago area or, or, you know,

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: Well, you know, in terms of what we’re talking about today, the hearing, we’ve tried to increase access for everybody.

And so for those people where their hearing aids are out of reach or too expensive, we’re not a good choice for them because of either, again, dexterity issues. They don’t sound that good. They’ve tried them. What we designed is this new type of hearing device called ClearCast. I’m actually wearing it. I don’t know if you noticed that.

Monique Lore: Oh yeah, there it is.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: Instead of hearing aids that you wear in your ear that are tiny and really hard to change, might even interfere with your glasses, and often times you have to pair it with a smart phone, and you know, it works well for, I think, your age or my age people, but I think the older population, like my mom or dad, that would be really cumbersome.

And I certainly think that’s part of the reason not that many people either try hearing aids or they don’t find them that satisfying. So We wanted to design another product entirely for the people that want to hear better, but don’t want a hearing aid. And that is what we have here. This is called ClearHast.

It is a different kind of product. We call it cheaters for your ears because you wear it like reading glasses around your neck. Very easy. You put it on. Oh my

Monique Lore: gosh!

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: And you’re hearing

Monique Lore: better.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: Very simple on off switch. I love that! Volume up, volume down, and that’s it. And you’ll hear better without any complication, and then you can’t lose it because it’s around your neck.

If you have a loved one or family member at home that’s having some trouble hearing, you can’t really buy them a hearing aid or make them go to the doctor or get all the tests done. You can easily buy this and it’s a fraction of the cost. 90 percent less expensive than the hearing aids we’ve just talked about.

Monique Lore: 90 percent less than those crazy numbers that we just all got our heart broken over when we were going to need a hearing aid. Like, and it’s also cooler looking cause I’m having flashbacks as a kid in high school, seeing someone with a hearing aid and them getting made fun of and it was bulky and it.

You know, but then I felt more empathy towards them and I was kinder to them, but I still don’t want to wear one. You’re not

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: wrong. If you think about it, you know, the hearing aids of old days are little things that might be beige, you wear them in your ear, they go behind your ear. As invisible as you think they are, everyone can see them, and there is some self consciousness around them.

And what we are doing is, we realized at ClearCast Hearing that that’s not the only form factor that makes sense. And there’s going to be a lot of people that don’t need something in their ear all day, every day, that’s really small, hard to handle, and delicate. And so, in my research and my patient population, what we found is a fair number of people They’re not super active socially like they were in their younger days.

So they’re often at home. They’re reading. They’re watching TV or having a conversation. And then go to a restaurant or dinner or church. And so we wanted to build something for those times in the day. where they need something like a little boost. And so this is actually, we call it a pal, you know, pals, like a buddy.

This is the clear cast. Well, it’s the personal assistive listening device. That’s an FDA registered category. That’s been here this whole time, but there’s been no innovation in 24 years. Can you believe that?

Monique Lore: Well, of course it hasn’t, they’ve been getting their bag. They, nobody wants, they’ve been 2000 of 4, 000 a pop.

No one wants to, Yeah,

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: right. And more recently, by the way, there is, but they passed a legislation at 2022 that allows for over the counter sale of hearing aids, but they really kind of strapped that regulation. So it’s only for the earliest stages of hearing loss, mild hearing loss and a little bit worse.

So someone like you and me could use it, but most seniors that are ready to act, they’re not at the mild level. They’re a little bit farther gone if they need people to repeat or they have to read lips. So the over the counter hearing aids don’t help them. And so we, we thought, you know, in this day and age, technology’s there.

Let’s, let’s evolve the design process. This is like a tech device, like a headphone, but it has hearing aid componentry in it, and it helps people hear in the scenarios they need to hear most, which is three things. One is a personal conversation like you and I are having, no more reading lips, no more asking what or what you say.

You could just use the volume dial here and you’ll hear them. TV listening. A lot of arguments of family members is one person needs the TV really loud and it’s hard for the other people to be in the same room. We have this wireless magic mic, we call it. It’s a very simple device. And you put it next to the TV, it routes the sound directly into this thing.

And so you can hear it at the same volume that the other people want it at and no more arguments. volume.

Monique Lore: It’s the smart be It’s the smart bed for ye go. Yeah,

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: everyone’s happ

Monique Lore: and this same thing

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: has a could put this at the cent at a restaurant, you’ll h conversation, not all the

Monique Lore: is going on. All right, I to Chicago right now to g what?

You don’t have

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: to c You don’t have to come to Chicago. It’s online at clearcasthearing. com. You don’t have to come to Chicago, but if you do it, I’d happily take care of it.

Monique Lore: Dr. Shirkhuri has thought of it all. So I love that. How long have you been, you did mention, you know, your, your, your, your reckoning, recognition in the market, so the need in the market for your product.

And I love that you’ve made it affordable. Did you tell us the range? Let’s remind the listeners and viewers, the price range, and again, where they can get this product. Early Christmas gift for somebody.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: Yeah. Or mother’s day or father’s day. It’s really, like I said, it’s really hard to buy someone or make them go get a hearing aid, including my own mother.

I, and my father’s now losing his hearing, but they’re not really eager for me to jump in the car and take them to get a hearing aid. So hearing aids, prescription ones, the good ones cost about 4, 500 or more.

Monique Lore: Wow.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: If you have early stage hearing loss, which is not most of us over the counter hearing aids, the good ones are 1, 600.

And this thing, the ClearCast Pal, is 399, so cheap instead of some of the headphones out there. Very affordable. There’s even paperclaps, if that’s helpful. But it’s a very easy, we wanted to remove every obstacle possible, for either someone our age to buy it for an aging family member, or a spouse to buy it, or even the person that says, I don’t want a hearing aid, but let me hear better and enjoy the quality of life benefits.

Monique Lore: Wonderful. Well done, doctor. I’m so excited for this technology. I cannot wait. I know that I’m going to see those. I’m going to look over in the airport and see people wearing. I need to get one. You know, I do bump my music. I have my noise counseling and I know, like I said, you either pay it on the front end or you pay it on the back end.

So I know I’ll be paying for it on the back end. But perhaps grabbing one of your pieces. Could make that that journey a little easier. Thank you for what you’re doing and you’re doing it with a smile and I can feel the love from Chicago. Come back, check in with us. We’d love to, I have a couple of things.

We’ll talk offline, but I think that we could get your your pieces in some good hands. Thank you for doing your work.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri: Very nice of you to have me on the show and God bless you guys.

Monique Lore: You as well. All right, you guys get into it.

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