In today’s world, there’s no shortage of places to address a hearing challenge.
Advertisements are shouting about the latest over-the-counter devices, you may often walk past the hearing aid department at Costco, and brands such as Listen Lively and other direct-to-consumer offerings are aggressively marketing.
You may be left wondering what the difference is between the different options available and what are the real benefits you’ll get by working with a team of Doctors of Audiology.
In this article, you’re going to learn the key differences through an honest and unbiased breakdown to ensure that you or your loved ones make the right decision for your hearing health.
The four different options that we’re going to look at are:
- Working with Audiology Associates – a trusted team of doctors of audiology
- Visiting a big box store – like Costco, Sam’s Club, etc.
- Buying online through direct-to-consumer
- Or buying an over-the-counter (OTC) device
The truth is, doing something is better than doing nothing, and all treatment options are a step in the right direction.
However, in the same way that you want to make an informed and smart decision when deciding upon any aspects of your healthcare, it’s important that you know all the details.
Whether you’re reading this article for yourself or on behalf of a loved one, our hope is that this helps and supports you on the journey.
What Are The Key Differences?
Before we look at the breakdown of each specific option, here is a high-level overview of some of the big differences between the options available.
On the left-hand side are some of the key features that many people look for when addressing a hearing challenge, with a tick, cross, or details for each particular option.
There are two things that sit at the top of the list that need further comments.
Firstly, what is a diagnostic hearing assessment, and why is it important?
The truth is, there’s no shortage of places to have your hearing tested – you can do it through online hearing tests, or you can visit your local big box store.
But in the same way that you wouldn’t trust a medical diagnosis to Google or a retail employee, it’s important to understand that there are different levels of hearing testing.
Many common hearing tests solely test to find the granular result to the question, “do you have a hearing loss?” This only results in either a yes or a no.
Yet, a diagnostic hearing assessment looks beyond the WHAT and instead looks at the WHY to determine if you have a hearing loss. If so, the assessment helps to find the reasons for the hearing loss, what is the true impact of it, and what is the best solution to help you to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for.
Secondly, what are audiological best practices?
These are very important because unless a miracle cure for hearing loss becomes available, then you’re going to be living with a hearing loss for the rest of your life.
It’s the reason that it’s not recommended to take short-cuts and work with options that put a band-aid solution on a larger problem. Instead, you want to work with a team that focuses on your long-term hearing health.
From advanced testing to a multi-point fitting process – all the small, advanced steps are often the difference between a mediocre result and achieving better hearing for life.
At Audiology Associates, these two are fundamental to the way that we support the people that we work with – but with direct-to-consumer, over-the-counter, and big box stores, this level of in-person detail and care is not available.
Pros And Cons Of The Four Options
#1 – Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids
In late 2021, President Biden signed an executive order that shared that “hearing aids are so expensive (greater than $5,000/pair) that only 14% of approximately 48 million Americans with hearing loss use them”.
As a result, he will direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “to consider issuing proposed rules within 120 days for allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter.”
This was followed by the proposed regulations from the FDA (which are currently in a commenting period).
It’s expected that upon the green light being given that over-the-counter devices will be available in 2022, and rumors suggest that several big consumer brands are preparing to launch their over-the-counter devices, including Apple and even Google.
Although there is a lot of unknowns about these types of devices, we have learned a lot from devices like the Bose SoundControl and the Jabra Enhance Plus that are essentially glorified PSAP’s (Personal Sound Amplification Products).
Priced at around the $1000 mark, they are available online, and you self-fit them by following some settings within an app. They are not professionally personalized to your exact hearing loss, and instead, they offer more of an overall amplification for people with mild hearing loss.
- Accessible online
- Look like earphones (can be disguised)
- Very competitively priced
- Not tailored to your specific hearing loss
- Doesn’t require any form of testing (it could be a build-up of earwax that is responsible for your reduced hearing, or you may have no hearing loss)
- Self-fitting can lead to discomfort and lack of performance
- No hearing health support (just consumer electronics support)
- No warranty if you lose or damage your device
- Only appropriate for mild to moderate hearing loss
Although there is going to be a lot of noise about these devices, they are only helpful to people with mild hearing loss who need hearing help in certain situations.
#2 – Online Direct-to-Consumer Models (Such as Listen Lively)
You may have seen advertisements from brands like Listen Lively or other popular online models that promote convenient ways to address a hearing challenge without visiting a professional, instead offering remote online appointments.
It’s a strong proposition. They promote the best of both worlds, allow you to work with a hearing professional through their website, and help you to save money.
You have an online hearing test, and then a set of devices are sent to you to self-fit following their tutorial videos, with online support available.
In our eyes, an online hearing assessment feels risky – but there are many people who have used this solution to achieve the outcome that they were looking for.
- Available online
- Slick ordering process
- Hearing technology is developed by a reputable manufacturer
- Has a money-back guarantee
- Your hearing is tested online (which often leads to inaccuracy)
- No in-person testing (other reasons for a hearing challenge are not picked up)
- No in-person appointments/support
- Do not accept insurance
Although there’s a lot of good about this offering, depending on what you’re looking for, our belief is that it’s not the right option if you’re prioritizing your hearing healthcare.
#3 – Big Box Retail Stores (Costco/Sam’s Club, Etc.)
Costco is one of the biggest sellers of hearing devices in the country.
Through their hearing department, they have a strong retail model that allows you to purchase their Kirkland devices (that are rebranded by a reputable manufacturer) and cut costs while visiting a hearing aid specialist in person.
It’s a step in the right direction compared to purchasing online since you’re able to be tested in a sound booth and your hearing aids are likely to be programmed much more effectively.
However, the biggest challenge with big box stores is that they’re a retail model rather than a medical model – which means that efficiency is often more important than delivering healthcare.
Once again, it all depends on what’s important to you and what you prioritize the most.
- You receive a hearing test
- You receive an in-person fitting
- You wear professional technology
- You have a warranty
- You can return for help/cleanings/support if needed
- You do not have a diagnostic hearing evaluation
- They do not follow audiological best practices
- You’re often seen by a hearing aid specialist rather than an audiologist (the difference is that one is trained to diagnose a hearing loss and program devices, whereas the other goes to school for 5 years to become an expert on all aspects of the ear/hearing)
- You don’t receive follow-up care for adjustments, updated hearing assessments, etc.
- You cannot utilize your insurance benefits
- Payment plans are unavailable
Costco and Sam’s Club have a great model of delivering low costs, and this is certainly an option if finances are the biggest motivator for you, but just know that it comes with its downsides.
#4 – Audiological Care At Audiology Associates
Often considered as the traditional approach, this is the option if your healthcare is the most important factor for you.
You’re able to visit a team of Doctors of Audiology to have a diagnostic hearing assessment that follows all audiological best practices. This means that the reason for your hearing challenges is very important, and the level of treatment is much more specific.
You’re able to receive ongoing support and care that ensures that your hearing health remains the priority, and the focus is prolonging your hearing and ensuring that all steps are properly taken to ensure that your hearing loss doesn’t worsen.
- It’s a commitment to your long-term hearing health
- You’re treated by an individual Doctor of Audiology
- Ongoing care means that your devices are maintained, and your hearing is regularly tested to ensure any adjustments can be made to your devices
- You’re not limited to the technology that you’re fitted with, and a custom solution is decided based on your needs, circumstances, and budget
- You receive a long-term warranty/protection for added peace of mind
- You can utilize your insurance benefits
- Payment plans are available
- You’re working with a small business rather than a large corporation
- Naturally, we believe this is the best option if you want to maximize your long-term hearing health and treat your hearing challenges the right way.
However, the decision is truly up to you.
We are delighted that you’re exploring your options to make a step in the right direction, and our hope is that this article has added transparency on what can be a difficult decision.
If you have any questions or need any help, then please know that our friendly team of experts is available to offer no-obligation advice and support – simply request a callback by clicking here.