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Hearing Aids

Should I Search the Web for Hearing Aids?

Article first published on Dr. Suzanne Yoder’s blog on hearing care:

Admittedly I am in love with the Internet (as are many in my generation), and it is easy for me to reach for the computer every time I want to research something new or look for the best prices on a product I want to purchase. It always seems like a good idea, but when it comes right down to making good choices for new purchases I nearly always seek out an expert instead of relying on the Internet.

Some of the best purchases I have made for myself and my family have been with the help of a professional who took the time to get to know me and help me sort through options/features that would be appropriate for me. Doing business this way also gave me some peace of mind that I had a place to go if I needed followup or had to return something or just had more questions. With the exception of minor purchases, I like to buy my purchases locally even if that means I will pay a little more.

I shudder at the number of ways that people can come to be proud owners of hearing aids from the Internet. There is a slew of sites, including auction houses and warehouse sellers, with the intent to sell hearing aids through the Internet. Online hearing aids sales typically focus on the sale of the devices and downplay the importance of quality service. When the cost of professional care and service are removed, the price of hearing devices can be less expensive, but at what cost to the buyer?

Hearing aids are considered medical devices per the FDA and should be sold as such. There is a widespread problem with inappropriate Internet sales of hearing devices, and the FDA has posted warnings on their website. Though the FDA does not completely oppose online sales, they have had to shut down many organizations over the years for illegal activity regarding the sale of medical devices online. It is very difficult for the government to monitor online sales, ultimately leaving the responsibility of consumer protection in the hands of the consumer.

[please visit the links at the bottom of this post for more consumer education articles]
With this in mind, it is so important that consumers know what to look for when shopping for hearing aids. I recommend shopping locally so that you can easily see your audiologist for follow ups. New hearing aid users have an experience in the first few months that is called the adaptation period (AKA acclimation period). During this time the brain is becoming accustomed to the new sounds and auditory input received from the hearing aids. Fine-tuning, counseling, and aural rehabilitation are necessary for 99.9% of patients during the first few months. This is a very important time for professional help, and those who purchase hearing aids without these services are less likely to be successful.

In addition to the adaptation period following a new hearing aid purchase, hearing aids will also need to be maintained by a professional to ensure that they are working properly and to help prevent problems with equipment failure from moisture, ear wax, or other damage. We see patients at least two times per year for maintenance checks, and we will also see them when the warranty is about to expire to ensure the hearing aids are checked one last time under warranty. The warranty can be extended in many cases, and this is a nice option that might not be found with online services. Though the patient is scheduled at least twice per year, we also encourage them to come in whenever there is a problem. That means unlimited services during the warranty period. This is another area not provided by online purchases.

Hearing aids are very customized devices. Initial programming and fitting includes a number of processes to ensure that the devices were made properly, set properly, and features are verified and working as they should. It is also a good time to customize some of the features to meet the patient’s needs. For example, patients may want a special phone switch or music setting. I also have had some patients who need a special program setting for use in conference meetings or for listening to the television. The devices are so flexible and have so many choices that many patients are not even aware of all the things their hearing aids are capable of doing.

I routinely spend nearly two hours on new hearing aid fittings, going over use of the devices and all the features, verifying proper fit and sound settings, and instructing the patient on how to care for the devices so that they last their life expectancy. I then see them back weekly or every other week while they are in their adaptation period to make sure that the devices are meeting their goals. Goals are very important, and by setting goals with my patients I can better understand their needs and be sure the best device is prescribed to reach their goals and expectations.

I have seen many disappointed and embittered consumers who feel that hearing aids are not worth the money they paid when they purchased online or through a mail order. Those who buy hearing aids online and service is not provided end up paying for professional service on top of the cost of the hearing devices in order to get them to function correctly, and this becomes costly in the long run. So buyer beware: The cost of online hearing aids can be deceiving.

If you are considering hearing aids, please take the time to contact a local audiologist and ask for a consultation Many will be more than happy to sit down and talk with you and discuss your goals and your concerns on pricing. I recommend searching for audiologists who have a doctorate degree and have been board certified by the American Board of Audiology. Check the links provided below.

Helpful Links

American Board of Audiology — highest standards in certification for audiologists
http://www.americanboardofaudiology.org/

Academy of Doctors of Audiology — represents doctors in the field of audiology
http://www.audiologist.org/

American Academy of Audiology — represents all audiologists
http://www.audiology.org/

American Speech & Hearing Association — represents all audiologist and speech language pathologists.
http://www.asha.org/
Links regarding consumer education on hearing aid purchases
 
FDA US Food and Drug Administration
Buying Medical Devices and Diagnostic Tests Online
http://www.fda.gov/

Consumer Reports — consumer advocates
Hearing Aid Checklist (search on their site)
Consumer reports investigated purchasing hearing aids (search on their site)
http://www.consumerreports.org/

Hearing Loss Association of America — consumer advocates
Developed a Hearing Aid Consumer Checklist (available in PDF on their website)
http://www.hearingloss.org/

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Hearing Enhancement
Expectations: A Consumer Checklist, by Mark Ross, Ph.D.
http://www.hearingresearch.org/
See Sections: “Dr. Ross Says,” “Considering A Hearing Aid,” & “Expectations, A Consumer Checklist”