What consumers should known when purchasing hearing aids online
It seems like everything is sold online these days. From cars, to food, to medical devices, almost anything you could ever dream of owning is now sold online. It’s no wonder that hearing aids have been sold online since almost the beginning of the “.com” era.
What most consumers don’t know, however, is problems that come from testing, fitting, and purchasing hearing aids over the internet. In general hearing aids dispensed without face-to-face in-person consultation between end-users and distributers result in a poor fit, decreased satisfaction and an overall higher cost to the consumer.
The following was a study conducted by the University of Illinois Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in which they compared the quality of care received when two patients were fit both by an online distributor and a face-to-face clinic.
“In this study, two subjects were fitted with hearing aids both through an online company and by a university clinic. For the online fitting, each subject had to choose which product to purchase from among 40 to 60 aids about which the company gave little or no information. Telephone calls to the company were of little or no help in the purchasing process.
The hearing aids bought online were poorly fitted for both patients. They provided inappropriate gain at the outset, as the levels were based on online hearing test results that were very different from those established in the university clinic.
While these subjects might eventually have been able to obtain a reasonably appropriate fit through the online process, they would likely have had to pay multiple shipping and handling costs and spent much time before getting a proper fit.”
(Suzanne Kimball and Susan Yopchick, Study compares hearing aids fitted online with clinical fittings on the same subjects, The Hearing Journal, March 2009, Vol 62, No 3.)
A Face-to-Face Setting
On November 15, 2007 Oticon, a leading manufacturer of digital hearing aids, decided to discontinue the selling of its products to companies other than audiologist offices and hearing aids specialists who could provide the quality of care Oticon wishes to be represented by its company.
Oticon stated, “People with hearing loss deserve to make the best choices possible for themselves that best fit their individual needs. We believe this is best accomplished through a personal relationship with a dispensing professional in a face-to-face setting.”
In response to this action the American Academy of Audiology stated, “This decision is laudable, and sets a standard for all hearing aid manufacturers to follow. Evidence shows that successful hearing aid use is predicated on careful counseling, followed by selection, fitting, verification, and validation of the fitting – activities that can only be accomplished through the direct diagnosis and treatment of by a licensed [professional].”
(HealthTech Wire, Oticon’s hearing aid distribution guidelines, http://healthtechwire.com/Pressrelease.146+M5ca11b15771.0.html)
Most online hearing aid retailers boast that they offer the ability to cut out the middle man and reduce the customers cost significantly. These statements are simply untrue.
By reviewing two simple models of how hearing aids are manufactured, fit, and sold it is easy to see that a middle man most defiantly exists when purchasing from both a hearing healthcare professional and an online dealer.
As reviewed in the previous sections of this article most hearing aid users require counseling, adjustments, and even minor repairs. These are sometimes covered by online dealers for the first year only, while most hearing healthcare professionals offer lifetime counseling, adjustments, and minor service with the original cost of the hearing aid.
Also, many online dealers will boast lower prices because of special contracts with major manufacturers. While this may be true, it is also the case with hearing healthcare professionals who hold similar contracts with major manufacturers.
Overall it is the responsibility of the consumer to check locally with hearing healthcare professionals in order to find the best value for their money.
In conclusion we simply wish to issue a warning to those who are seeking to purchase hearing instruments by mail order or online.
“Purchasing aids through the mail or online often excludes important diagnostic audiologic evaluation, hearing aid orientation and adjustment, and rehabilitation services. These services help to ensure quality care and full benefit from the use of a hearing aid, as well as appropriate referral if medical treatment is warranted.”
(Hearing Aids, http://www.asha.org/hearing/treatment/hearing_aids.htm, pg. 4, 5/13/2009)