Professional groups take unified stand on direct-to-consumer hearing aid sales

LIVONIA, MI–Although United Healthcare (UHC) and leaders of several professional associations in hearing care sat down last month to talk with one another (see our February 7 post), there’s little sign that the differences between them can be reconciled.

On the one hand, UHC’s subsidiary, hi HealthInnovations, seems fully committed to selling hearing aids directly to consumers. On the other hand, citing grounds of efficacy and patient safety, the main national organizations of hearing healthcare providers strongly oppose the sale of hearing aids without the involvement of a qualified professional.

Recently, the International Hearing Society, the American Academy of Audiology, the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology approved “A Joint Statement on Consumer-Administered Hearing Tests and Direct-to-Consumer Hearing Aid Sales.” Given how rarely more than two of these organizations agree on anything, this degree of consensus is noteworthy.

 

IHS PLAYED A KEY ROLE

The International Hearing Society (IHS)  played an active role in bringing these often quarrelsome associations together. While most members of the Michigan-based society are hearing instrument specialists, it is the only one of the participating organizations that is also open to audiologists and ENT physicians.

On February 9, IHS Executive Director Kathleen Mennillo e-mailed the joint statement to all her group’s members. In an accompanying message, she wrote:

“Your IHS leaders want you to feel completely confident that IHS is building alliances with our organized audiology and otolaryngology colleagues – to the benefit of the industry and the consumers we serve. It is obvious in this changing market that hearing healthcare requires a team and each of us is a necessary part of the puzzle.” Mennillo urged IHS members to share the joint statement  with their patients to illustrate the concerns that all types of hearing healthcare professionals feel about direct-to-consumer hearing aid sales.

 

EXCERPTS FROM THE JOINT STATEMENT

In their statement (which can be read in full at the IHS web site), the five organizations say that they “believe that patients must have access to a comprehensive hearing evaluation performed by a hearing health professional, be appropriately fitted by an individual licensed/registered in the state to dispense hearing aids, and have access to auditory rehabilitation and counseling to ensure appropriate fit and use of the hearing aid device.”

The statement also notes, “Federal and state laws related to the dispensing of a hearing aid are currently in place to protect and ensure consumer safety.” Among these, it says, are state laws that “recognize the importance of consumer protection and safety by placing restrictions on the dispensing of hearing aids by direct mail and/or the Internet.”

The statement concludes, “All of our organizations have both health and efficacy concerns about the use of consumer-administered hearing tests and the direct sale of hearing aids to the consumer without the involvement of a licensed hearing health professional–an audiologist, hearing aid specialist, or otolaryngologist. We encourage our respective members and other hearing health care providers to work collaboratively to ensure patient safety and enhance consumer protections related to the purchase of hearing aids and related devices.”

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