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Reader Feedback on OTC Hearing Aid Article

Reader Feedback on OTC Hearing Aid Article

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Thanks to those of you who take the time to give me your thoughts on the contents of our newsletters!

Mark Ross’ article on over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids and the article on the Newsweek story provoked a number of thoughtful responses, and the writers graciously allowed me to share their thoughts with you!

Regarding OTC hearing aids, Jan Christensen used the comparison of OTC reading glasses (like those I’m using to prepare this article 😉 to argue that hearing aids should be similarly available. She said:

“If we can buy magnifying eyeglasses over the counter without a prescription, then why not hearing aids? There are many eye diseases that can be helped by medical intervention, but the FDA is not concerned about that, apparently. Providing a brochure recommending seeing a doctor first to check for wax and/or an infection or any other medical condition is better than denying people aids entirely, isn’t it?”

Curtis Dickinson responds to Dr. Ross’ concern that people who don’t seek professional advice might settle for one hearing aid when two would be more beneficial:

“It’s wrong to assume people wouldn’t want two hearing aids rather then one. I think people who buy OTC hearing aids would most likely buy two because they would be cheaper to purchase. As it stands now, it takes a lot of convincing to get a customer to shell out another $3000 for a second hearing aid. And this is after they were convinced to shell out $3000 for one, after living seven years with a hearing loss and no aids! But with OTC aids they could have two high-tech digitals for $300. Now wouldn’t that be nice?”

One of Dr. Ross’ reservations about OTC hearing aids is that people who have a bad experience with them may refrain from getting aids from a professional at a later date. Here is Jan Christensen’s response:

“The danger of bad experience preventing someone from buying audi-supplied aids is probably no worse than people simply not buying them in the first place because of their cost. Since such a really small percentage of people in America who need hearing aids purchase them, and many, many do not do so because of cost, I think over-the-counter hearing aids should be allowed.

“I also believe that the competition for customers will help sell many more aids, which should drive down the costs even further and will be good for all people with hearing loss, because it will increase public awareness of the problem.”

Jan also takes exception to the idea that hearing aid professionals provide additional information to help people cope with their hearing loss. Here’s her experience:

“Dr. Ross supposes that all present owners of hearing aids get wonderful counseling from their dispensers/audiologists. But one of the major complaints I hear from those who do purchase hearing aids is that they do not get enough information and are more apt to find out things from others with a hearing loss.

“This happened to me. I found out about assistive listening devices (ALDs) and SHHH when I joined the SayWhatClub. I had never heard of either and had been going annually to either purchase new hearing aids or get tune ups on old ones, plus at other odd times for repairs and cleanings for FIFTEEN YEARS. I went to four different ‘practices’ and saw quite a few different dispensers/audiologists, and none of them mentioned ALDs or SHHH!”

Paula Bonilla responded to the recent Newsweek article on hearing loss with a letter to the editor in which she addressed the US hearing aid industry. Her comments included:

“David Noonan’s excellent article on hearing points out the huge discrepancy between the number of people in the US with hearing difficulties (28 million) and the number of people choosing NOT to wear hearing aids (21 million).

“Citing cost, discomfort and stigma as possible reasons only one-fourth of this potential market utilizes available technology, Noonan should also add that hard-of-hearing people are largely uneducated about their options.

“Hence, market demand remains sluggish, keeping prices artificially high, and consumers are left quietly in the dark. Not many people are willing to plunk down thousands of dollars without knowing what they’re buying and a guarantee of adequate adjustment time.”

And here’s Curtis to close out the discussion with a general comment on the hearing aid industry.

“The current selling protocol of hearing aids is the most prominent reason millions of Americans are not getting hearing aids. And many who do get hearing aids don’t have much good to say about the process. It leaves us very discouraged. Have you ever met anyone who dances on the way to an audiologist?”

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Paula Bonilla is the former editor/publisher of “Hearing Health” magazine. You can contact her at pbonillas@cableone.net

Jan Christensen is an author and full-time RVer. You’ve met her before in this newsletter. Please contact her at willwriteforfood@mindspring.com , or visit her website at http://www.janchristensen.com/

And you’ve met Curtis before, as well. You can contact him at hearmeco@earthlink.net . Curtis also sells assistive listening devices, alerting devices, etc. Check it out at http://www.hearing-loss-help-co.com/ .

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More Reader Feedback: Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids

June 2005

Dr. Ross’ article was a fairly dispassionate look at the emotionally charged topic of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. Last week we had a couple of comments from folks who are very supportive of the idea. Here’s a response from Steve Huart, Au.D. (Huart.Steven@mayo.edu), who doesn’t think OTC aids are such a great idea. He writes:

“I would love to have affordable alternatives to expensive hearing aids. Perhaps my perception has been jaded by 20 years of fitting aids, but I don’t see OTC as a viable option. Hearing loss varies A LOT among individuals. Not to oversimplify but the three biggest problems I see are:

“1. Fit. How can you try a hearing aid in your ear at the drugstore? Putting an aid in your ear to see how it sounds is not the same as picking up a pair of non-prescription glasses to see how things look.

“2. Hearing loss is too variable. If someone has a high frequency hearing loss and picks up an aid designed for a flat loss it might sound OK in the drug store, but it is probably not the best prescription for understanding speech.

“3. People with the same loss tolerate sounds differently. Over amplification (too loud, too noisy, uncomfortable) is probably one of the main reasons for rejection of amplification. In order to avoid this problem a lot of OTC aids would be designed to underamplify, so would not be the best fit.

“And please tell people that not all hearing aids cost $3000 apiece. There are a lot of good hearing aids available for a lot less money. The newest models with all the advanced features the manufacturers brag about cost the most. When someone cannot afford that, it does not mean they cannot afford to get help.

“A lot of people cannot afford to drive a BMW or Mercedes Benz. They get around just fine in a Ford or Chevy. Some people cannot afford $6000 for a pair of hearing aids. Tell your audiologist what you can afford and see what is available in a price range you can live with. It might mean not getting directional microphones or not getting the latest noise reduction algorithm, but it should not mean you should go without hearing aids.”

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