Over the years, the cost of just about everything has gone up. Some things more than others. Often consumer wages have not increased with these rising costs of living. Many people choose to research more cost-efficient ways of accessing what they need such as buying online or choosing self-care products instead of doctor advised products.
This applies to healthcare options, medical devices, eyecare and dental device choices. It also includes hearing devices. The market now includes hearing aids you can buy online or at retail stores for less money and avoid the cost of a visit to the audiologist. This is a more cost-effective way to go, but is it necessarily more efficient?
Over the counter (OTC) hearing devices such as PSAPs or personal sound amplifiers have been available for years. These tiny devices look just like normal hearing aids but are much more affordable, starting around $20 and max out around $1,000. This is a much more attractive price for buyers rather than the $1500 that many single hearing aids start at.
However cost effective it may be, this option is not always the best choice. These devices are not yet regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Manufacturers of these devices are not allowed to advertise them as hearing aids. They are also not allowed to state that they will help people with decreased hearing to be able to hear better.
Many people don’t do deep and thorough research before they make the leap to purchase. They simply see the advertisement for amplified hearing at a low cost and decide it’s a better alternative. The fact that the person has not been to see a hearing professional such as an audiologist to obtain an actual diagnosis might have saved them money, but it has downsides too.
By not seeking out the consult of a qualified audiologist, they will not know if their situation may possibly be reversed or if it’s permanent. They may also not end up with the best option for their particular situation.
Devices not regulated by the FDA usually do not go through the rigorous testing that the FDA requires and therefore may not stand up in certain aspects or situations such as:
The quality of sound can differ greatly from a hearing aid to an PSAP, depending on technology and the quality of parts used to manufacturer the device. If cheap part are used, this can lead to a decrease in the lifetime of the product. Many of these PSAPs are known to have difficulty filtering out background noise, especially in crowded environments. This can be very frustrating for users and lead to them trying other devices to find the best quality and technology, which can actually become quite costly.
Fit is another problem many consumers struggle with. These devices are almost identical to a true hearing aid, but don’t come with added security of exact measurements of the consumers ear contour done by a professional. This can result in an ill-fitting device that may move and cause irritation or even fall out completely. This too can become costly if the device ends up being replaced due to loss or irritation.
The lifetime of an OTC product can be significantly less than an actual hearing aid too. Due to the fact that the FDA isn’t monitoring the quality of parts used to manufacture the device, there is no guarantee that the product will hold up as long as a traditional hearing aid. Again, additional costs may come up if the need to replace even one device.
Many of these devices only offer a 30-day warranty, if that. So if it stops working after a month, you’re on your own to replace it which will result in additional costs.
Visiting a qualified audiologist may seem more costly in the beginning but keep some things in mind.
Recently a bill was passed that will allow over the counter sales of hearing aids, called the OTC Hearing Aid Act, which will take effect beginning in 2020. The purpose of the bill is to provide more cost-efficient alternatives that can be purchased over the counter.
This bill should not be the end of the audiologist, but an alternative. It can allow audiologists to offer another option to their patients of OTC hearing aids to be sold within their practice. It could allow them to choose a brand to highlight within their facility that is a lower cost, suitable, and safe option that they can get behind and endorse the use of.
This change could actually bring more business into the audiology sector and bring comfort to the general public because they know that in order to sell the product, the practice would agree it’s a suitable option.