This is an interesting question that each person with a hearing loss asks. If not the person with the hearing loss, then surely a family member such as a daughter or son asks the question. It is a larger question than just googling an audiologist or hearing aid dispenser. There are many considerations: convenience to a person’s home or work, confidence or trust in the provider, the issue of price and what is included in the price. But, ultimately, the choice lies in the face to face meeting face to face with the provider and having all your questions answered before you place the order.
Some consumers depend on their friends’ experience and advice. Others depend on their primary care physician’s recommendation. Others shop around and take the time to visit several offices before making a final determination. Others are limited to insurance coverage and contracts. Some unions will pay a portion of the hearing aids at certain offices. Overall, it is not an easy decision to make.
As a consumer, I want to be comfortable with the provider. I may be unusual, but I have “interviewed” physicians before I made my final decision on who I want to trust with my health. When I was told by one physician I couldn’t do that because they couldn’t bill for the appointment, I choose not to use that particular physician as my primary care doctor. I wanted someone who would take “extra time” with me, if my situation warranted it. I didn’t want to be told that my seven minutes were up.
As an audiologist who sells hearing aids, I also want people to feel comfortable in my office. I do not want it to be so “medical” that it is off putting. I believe in taking the time to make sure a person is hearing well before they leave my office. Some people may perceive my “chit chat” as unnecessary. However, I usually do a number of tricks such as turn my back, and change the subject to see if the person responds appropriately and is still with the conversation. I turn my head, talk softly and ask a crazy question such as “What did you eat for breakfast?” This tells me several things. I am checking memory which will affect the details of my instructions to the person. It also tells me if they heard this off-beat question and can answer it. Even if they say, “Hmm, I don’t remember what I had for breakfast”, I know they heard the question and was thinking about it.
I want consumers to be referred by their family and friends who have found our services helpful, comfortable, and affordable. I want the primary care physicians to automatically refer every 50 year old for a baseline hearing test. I want pediatricians to refer children who failed their school hearing screening. I want patients to refer others to the practice.
Some insurance companies are aggressively encouraging people to purchase hearing aids through their discount programs. The implication is that hearing aids are devices that can be worn without any maintenance or follow-up care. Insurances are looking at hearing aids like an arm brace. You purchase it and use it.
Hearing aids are very sophisticated devices. Some insurance companies will sell you hearing aids “pre-programmed” to fit your hearing loss. The assumption is that the hearing aids are programmed to “correct” your hearing loss that is determined by the audiogram or hearing test. There are many other factors that determine how hearing aids should be programmed.
Most of the software designed to program hearing aids sets the hearing aids to “target” or the optimum hearing for a person’s hearing loss. Personally, I have found that most first time hearing aid wearers find this setting too loud and uncomfortable. I know that hearing aid manufacturers do not believe that, based on their studies, but I have found this to be true of most of my first time wearers.
There is a well-documented phenomenon known as Uncomfortable Loudness Level. It is important to test this so the maximum gain can be reduced so environmental sounds will not exceed this level for the wearer. On most audiograms, the level is not routinely tested. Many seniors have “recruitment” or the abnormal growth in loudness. This affects the maximum gain output and needs to be adjusted on hearing aids for a person with recruitment.
These are just some of the factors that need to be considered by the audiologist and hearing aid dispenser as they are programming the hearing aids for the wearer. These are factors that a mail-order hearing aid do not take into consideration. And, for the adjustments to be made, the hearing aids would need to be mailed back to the factory for adjustments. How is the hearing aid wearer to know about these items and ask for those adjustments?
As a professional, I believe the patient receives the best care from a local office. Purchasing hearing aids via the mail is ultimately not in someone’s best interest. Being able to have regular follow-ups and cleanings is key to the success of wearing hearing aids. Being able to talk about your experiences in different situations gives important information to the professional so they can re-program your hearing aid for better hearing and better clarity. Find a local provider who you feel comfortable with. Find a local provider who has good office hours to accommodate your schedule and who listens to you. Find a local provider who has experience fitting hearing aids. Hearing aids need regular professional cleanings. You will need an annual hearing test to monitor your hearing. If your hearing changes, you will need your hearing aids re-programmed.