Arizona advocacy group criticizes company’s online approach to hearing care

David Kirkwood
May 21, 2012

PHOENIX—The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ACDHH) issued a strong statement last week opposing the service-delivery model developed by hi HealthInnovations for online hearing testing and sale of hearing aids directly to consumers.

Although the commission said it “encourages efforts to find a safe, effective and affordable methods of delivering hearing health care in America,” it added that it “should not have to happen by making compromises in the quality of hearing healthcare.”

ACDHH  was founded in 1977 to improve the quality of life for deaf and hard-of-hearing residents. In partnership with the public and private sector, it seeks to facilitate access for persons with hearing loss and to serve as a statewide information referral and resource center on issues relevant to that population.



The commission pointed out some specific concerns about the online hearing test, which was a component of the hi HealthInnovations program until a warning letter by the Food and Drug Administration led the company to quit offering the test last month.

ACDHH contended that the use of an uncalibrated online test to estimate air conduction hearing “is insufficient as a means of defining hearing loss for the purpose of implementing a treatment.” It added, “Such an approach may put people at risk by delaying appropriate care. In particular, it does not include otoscopy, bone conduction, immittance procedures, or speech recognition testing. For the person with possible hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, ear canal obstruction, retrocochlear hearing loss, and auditory processing disorders would all remain undetected.”

ACDHH also criticized the dispensing of hearing aids to consumers without the direct involvement of a trained professional. It noted, “Best practice guidelines require the verification of hearing aid performance, a step that cannot be included without personal, side by side involvement of a professional and adequate instrumentation.”

It continued, “Most importantly, we are strongly opposed to any hearing aid delivery model that takes a device-centered rather than person-centered approach. There is strong evidence that people with hearing loss experience a range of psychosocial, emotional, and quality of life consequences that are rarely resolved by simply putting on a hearing aid.“

The commission consists primarily of deaf and hard-of-hearing Arizonans, but also includes hearing care providers and officials from the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and the state’s Department of Economic Security.

hi HealthInnovations  is owned by United HealthCare, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies.

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