There is an indirect question we receive all the time that patients don’t want to ask us. My father, who wears our company’s dispensed hearing aids, actually asked this question about the general public. I thought that since most of you haven’t had a son who is an Audiologist, you might not hear these answers like I told him. I will give a listing of different places that you may get a hearing aid:
1. Hearing Aid Dispenser – These people are local in every town in America. They are normally very nice people. All states have a licensing board that regulates them. In OK it is called “The OK Hearing Aid Dealers and Fitters Association”. One must have a high school education, be in good legal standing and study a set of books as well as working under another dispenser (some call themselves Hearing Instrument Specialists, Hearing Instrument Dispensers…) for as much as six months. Once the licensure is passed, then that individual may dispense hearing aids. Hearing tests completed by this person in the state of OK cannot be considered a diagnostic statement and are only for the purposes of hearing aid dispensing.
2. Ear Nose and Throat Clinics – Many times ENT Physicians have Audiologists working for them. This is a symbiotic relationship dealing mostly with medical issues that occur with one’s ear. If a person needs surgery to repair one’s ear drum then this is the place that you might go. Private practice Audiologists can see the problem then send to ENT clinics to have the surgery issue resolved for that patient. This type of place views itself as a one stop shop for all ear needs. In the day of specialization of circumstances (Ophthalmologists have dozens of specialty areas now), hearing aids can be fitted by this group as well. It is not the focus on this type of clinic nor the personnel within them, but it is an option for a patient.
3. Online – this is the most dangerous option available to the patient. Some are even coming from insurances such as United Healthcare. They have instituted HI Health Innovations for hearing aids that are ALL dispensed online from a test that you might get from an Audiologist or a Hearing Aid Dispenser that you must enter the data in (another level of uncertainty because all of the ear factors are never taken in to account). Then you pick from several options online. Now you must hope to get the right hearing aid for you and hope that they will not have issues of which cannot be accomplished. The return rate on online hearing aids tends to jump from 40-55% of all hearing aids dispensed online. Why would that be? If hearing aids were only viewed as a commodity, then you could go to Best Buy or Apple to get hearing aids just like you get an iPhone from. These are complicated devices that have as many as 115 separate adjustments interacting with Bluetooth phones, TV devices and remotes. Most patients need at least 2-5 adjustments in the first few months and then two times a year at the very least.
4. Private Practice Audiologist – This person in the state of OK is most likely a doctor in Audiology. That is not a glorified button pusher. Why is that? The technology from the manufacturers that create amplification devices come as what I like to call a Tabla Rosa. That means a blank slate. In the past hearing aids were mostly accomplished by the manufacturer but now 85% of all that must be done are completed at the clinic level. Each round of changes per manufacturer can easily confuse unless we have the baseline of information that gives that Audiologist the understanding from the technology into how one might manipulate the technology for the patient.
Audigy Certified means that we are hooked up with a group of other Audiologists around the nation who know what we know. I had a patient that moved from Minnesota to here and now I take care of her needs seamlessly just as I had a patient that moved back to Pittsburgh to be closer to her favorite team the Pittsburgh Steelers. While I am not a Steeler fan, we love our patients through their needs. We just try our best with our Steeler fans not to argue about who goes to the Super Bowl…