by Kim Garrett
Manager and co-owner Timpanogos Hearing & Balance
I read an article recently in the New York Times about the high cost of hearing aids. The author who has worn hearing aids for 30 years was looking for a replacement for a broken aid. After visiting the same clinic where the last aid was purchased and discovering a replacement was more than she expected, she researched other options, including online outlets and Costco—where she ended up purchasing the aid for what she thought was a great deal.
She admitted in the article that her experience at Costco was “mixed” and that she was not satisfied with the aid that the “inexperienced hearing aid dispenser suggested.”
Once I got over feeling attacked, I realized that this article reflects what is really the problem with the hearing industry today—lack of education and abundance of misinformation. One of our core values in our office is patient education—giving our patients correct information so that they can make educated decisions. We are often told by people who come into our office after having visited other hearing care providers that they felt they were given much better information in our office. That makes us feel good.
However, what about all of the other people in the world who are trying to decide what to do about their hearing problems? How do we educate them so they can make the decision most critical to their success—the choice of a hearing care provider? Hence this post.
One of the most important pieces of information to understand is that all hearing health care providers are not the same. There are Audiologists and there are Hearing Instrument Specialists. These two types of providers are as different as comparing physicians and medical assistants. They both have their places, but you are more likely to get correct, educated information from one than the other.
Audiologists have at least a Master’s Degree in their field—those coming out of school now are required to have a Doctorate. That means at least 7 years of post-secondary education specialized in hearing and balance. They are trained to diagnose and treat conditions of the hearing and balance systems. As medical professionals, they can bill insurances for services, and can see all patients including children.
The requirements to be a hearing instrument specialist (HIS) vary from state to state. In the state of Utah, for example, someone who wants to be a HIS must have a high school diploma, pass a skills test and have 4000 hours of “indirect supervision” from another HIS. (Essentially, the candidate must be able to call the supervisor if he/she has questions.) HIS are not allowed to bill insurance companies for testing—as they are only able to perform tests for the purpose of selling a hearing aid, and they are not qualified to test and treat children.
That being said, and realizing that hearing health has been proven to affect quality of life physically and mentally more than high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, sciatica and cancer, which of these professionals are you going to trust?
Back to the Costco issue. While many of the professionals at Costco have the HIS certification, there are some Audiologists on their staff. It is true that you can get less expensive hearing aids at Costco—but the ugly truth is this: most private practice audiologists could sell you the same technology at the same price as Costco, but they very rarely will because the technology they are selling at Costco is outdated and inferior and most private practice professionals are not comfortable recommending it to their patients.
There are essentially 6 major hearing aid manufacturers. Those manufacturers all own various subsidiaries—“little brother” companies, if you will. Those 6 major companies spend millions and millions of dollars in research and development. As they come out with new and improved products, they send their now-outdated products to their “little brother” companies—and that is what lands at Costco.
When Costco advertises “premium” hearing aids for $2000 a pair, what they are not telling you is that “premium” only means the top of their line—not top of the industry. For example, if you came into our office wearing a pair of “premium” Costco hearing aids and wanted something comparable from our office, we would first try to discourage you because there are much better, more up-to-date options available. However, if you insisted on comparing apples to apples, we would not only match their price on the same out-dated technology, but also include our service plan, free batteries for the life of the device, and expert care as well. Not to mention the fact that you are getting medical care in a professional office, instead of buying a hearing aid in the same place you buy giant bags of chips.
Your hearing is not the place to be looking for a bargain. Like everything in life, when you invest in hearing health care, you get what you pay for. If you pay less for an inferior product, you will have inferior results—that’s all there is to it. If you want real improvement in your life and your communications with those around you, choosing a qualified audiologist such as Dr. Garrett, Dr. Forsey, and Jeana Bodine M.S. at Timpanogost Hearing & Balance will make all the difference.
If you would like a free consultation with one of our audiologists, please call 801-770-0801 to make an appointment.