This is a question I get quite often from patients who visit our office and I want to explain why I caution my patients from going down that road.
On a weekly basis, I see many new patients who come to our practice for help with their hearing and existing hearing technology. Many tell me that they spent quite a bit of money, but are not really seeing the benefits of hearing aids. Some have gone to big box stores to save a few bucks, but still are unable to hear well. Most of them have worked with someone who is not a doctor of audiology. Most of the fittings are fixable, however, some are not. I see too many patients whose hearing aids are not programmed correctly or who have been fit with hearing technology that is not appropriate for their hearing loss. We perform real-ear verification on most new patients to determine exactly how their existing hearing technology is performing for their hearing loss and in most cases, it is not meeting the targets necessary in order to appropriately amplify speech. I usually take this as an opportunity to really explain the differences in the credentials and experience of the professional who is treating their hearing loss.
Hearing aids are intricate little computers that take skilled programming in order to appropriately amplify an individual’s hearing loss. Hearing aids are not a quick-fix solution to hearing loss. Programming performed by a doctorate level audiologist is critical if you want to hear your best. In most cases, it takes many follow-ups along with real-life test trials to ensure the hearing aids are performing their best. Hearing aids also require routine cleanings and check-ups to prolong the life of the devices.
Hearing Instrument Specialists are NOT doctors. They do not have an 8-year doctorate level background in the anatomy of the ear, acoustics of the ear, counseling, or hearing loss. They can go from selling car insurance to selling hearing aids just by taking a quick exam. Sure, they can be trained to perform a hearing test and learn software for hearing aids, however, they have very minimal knowledge in hearing loss or the acoustic properties that go along with programming hearing aids. I know many hearing instrument specialists/dispensers who are wonderful, sweet, caring individuals, but ultimately, they are not doctors, just salesman. Some really do care about the people they see and enjoy trying to help them hear better and see their success, but they still do not have the doctorate level education that audiologists have in hearing loss. Others do not even use soundproof booths to test hearing, which is very concerning.
Big box stores have been selling hearing aids for years, however, most of these stores hire from within. They train employees with no education or clinical background in hearing loss to sell hearing aids. Most of the big box stores employ ‘Hearing Instrument Specialists’ or dispensers because they can train them quickly to perform hearing tests and become salesmen. Getting a license to do this is pretty easy. Big box stores are all about high volume sales, without much patient care or follow-up. Their hearing aids are generic brands that are “locked” so only they are able to program the devices. To these retailers, it is all about getting the hearing aids on an individual’s ears and getting them out the door. In Arizona, the only requirement needed to obtain a license to sell hearing aids as a ‘Hearing Instrument Specialist’ is a GED, or high school diploma.
When you combine cheap hearing aids with an individual who has minimal knowledge or education in hearing loss programming the devices, you end up with less than ideal outcomes. Ask for the credentials of the person who is treating your hearing loss. Although cheaper prices are definitely appealing, cheap hearing aids are still expensive if they do not work. Having your hearing loss treated next to the toilet paper aisle in a big noisy warehouse is not ideal if your ultimate goal is better hearing and better quality of life.