At first glance, buying hearing aids online may seem a good idea. Whether it’s from a website like eBay, or another online retailer, the apparent low-cost is often a false economy. Unfortunately, low prices are often based on a number of important misunderstandings that online retailers will conveniently neglect to mention.
So, read the Association of Independent Hearing Healthcare Practitioner’s (AIHHP) guide to avoiding the same pit-falls that others have fallen victim to…
- Hearing Aids Are Not ‘white goods’…
People often mistakenly think that a hearing aid is like a television, a computer, or a Hi-Fi, and so they treat it in the same way that they would purchase one of these types of goods: shop around, compare features and prices etc.
But hearing aids are not white goods. They’re PRESCRIPTION and MEDICAL devices. Your hearing loss needs to be correctly diagnosed by professional audiologists. Hearing aids need to be correctly programmed and fitted by someone who is trained and qualified to do so. If you are not fitted with the correct hearing aids for your hearing loss and lifestyle requirements – at best, they will be ineffective; at worse, they could actually damage your hearing.
- Hearing Aids Need Programming…
When you get a hearing aid, it is a bit like a blank slate that needs to be programmed to your specific hearing and lifestyle requirements. This requires specialist equipment, software from the manufacturer and someone who has the experience to know how to configure them properly.
If you purchase hearing aids from the Internet, you are unlikely to achieve an accurate prescription for your hearing requirements. Hearing is exceptionally subjective, and people often have different experiences, especially if they are a first-time hearing aid user. Only by frank and honest communication with fully trained and qualified audiologists, can a truly effective hearing solution be found. It often takes a few software tweaks and adjustments to achieve the optimal results. Your hearing is constantly changing, and the hearing aids routinely need to be adjusted accordingly.
Hearing aids are definitely not a one-size-fits-all product!
- Internet Retailers of Hearing Aids Are Not Regulated…
In the UK, there are various professional bodies that regulate the sale of hearing aids. The most important one is the ‘Health and Care Professions Council’ (HCPC), previously the ‘HPC’, and the ‘Hearing Aid Council’, which is the Government’s regulatory body for the private sale of hearing aids.
The HCPC specify who is qualified to dispense hearing aids privately, and regulate competence in order to protect the client.
Unfortunately, HCPC’s powers do not apply to Internet Sales. Therefore, they cannot protect you, and the Internet retailer has no responsibility to adhere to their standards of ethics and competence. You may be protected by Trading Standards and the Office of Fair Trading, but if the Internet Retailer correctly described it and it’s ‘technically’ fit for purpose, you may find you do not have any recourse.
Purchasing face-to-face, from someone who is registered and governed by the HCPC means that, at the very least, you will be dealing with someone who has a legal responsibility to prescribe and fit the instruments that are right for you, with a Regulator who you can turn to in the rare case that you need to.
- The Hearing Aid Manufacturer Works Closely With Professional Audiologists
Hearing aid manufacturers work closely with Hearing Care Professionals, to ensure they properly understand the product that they are prescribing and fitting. Purchasing from an online retailer loses this important partnership which plays a key role in a successful hearing aid fitting.
- The Online Cost Does Not Include Professional Time and Ongoing Support…
Have you ever wondered why the online cost is so different to quotes from professional practices?
It is because the price from a professional practice will include the costs of having an informed and suitable recommendation, a qualified dispenser fit the hearing aid, and an audiological specialist monitor your progress. It also often includes significant ongoing support, guarantees and audiological counselling.
- And You May Not Find Anyone to Programme It…
Most Hearing Care Professionals are reluctant to handle hearing aids that have not been supplied themselves. This is for two main reasons.
Firstly, the success of a hearing aid fitting depends on the combination of having the right technology and the right professional support. Fitting hearing aids that they have not prescribed, invites all sorts of problems, and it will leave you uncertain as to whether it’s the technology or the professional. This is something that most professionals are unwilling to risk, as it obviously affects their professional reputation.
Secondly, Hearing Care Professionals rarely have fee structures broken down into separate appointments that would allow them to carry out aftercare for hearing instruments they have not provided themselves.
The reason for this is very simple: often adjustments are made by the Hearing Care Professional as part of an incremental process that involves you experiencing how the hearing aids are performing for you in the real world, followed by an adjustment, followed by trying them out again, followed by another adjustment etc.
So, the number of appointments you need can easily accumulate, and that’s not including any ongoing maintenance your hearing aids might need over the longer term. If you were to be charged for each and every appointment, you may find it easier to simply ‘put up with’ the settings, rather than complete the necessary adjustment process. Worse still, you may stop using the hearing aids altogether.
This is why the profession has generally found that providing a price that includes the hardware, software (professional time and support) and maintenance has suited both clients and professionals.
If you think the multi-nationals will help…I’m afraid not. The support they provide (for their own customers) is limited after the fitting date, so it is unlikely that they will help regarding online purchases.
And the NHS? Will they help? No.
If you are considering purchasing hearing aids online, our advice is DON’T.
Find a local practice that you know will look after you. Their training, knowledge, experience and understanding of your hearing aid requirements will provide you with a tailor-made solution that’s right for you, with the added protection of being within the context of a properly regulated service.
If you already have purchased online, speak to Trading Standards for their advice.