We all remember when we made a visit to the audiologist. These audiologists got us all excited about the bells and whistles of the latest hearing aids. It’s supposed to be more life-changing than the last one we have. Do you remember? We will be able to get a superpower device that will give us a superpower hearing. They told us that this hearing aid would be a perfect fit. And then the quotes came. $5000, $7000, $6000. We can keep going and get a fourth and fifth opinion and be quoted all day long, but nothing seems to get the price lower.
We all know that hearing aids are the third largest expense in one hearing loss person’s life after a car and a house. Yet, expensive as they are, it excludes people from being able to buy. Suppose you have had hearing loss since childhood. In that case, the amount of money spent in total could afford you a downpayment for a home somewhere in your country or cover the cost of a luxury car. I love my hearing aids, but it was never as smooth sailing as driving a BMW. At times it’s like a tiny Fiat on bumpy gravel roads, and other times it’s like Honda Civic, just steady but reliable.
The new laws for over-the-counter hearing aids, or whatever the government will call it (The government is deciding a new name for these devices to not get confused with regulated hearing aids), will open doors to affordable hearing aids for some. Buying hearing aids will be like buying glasses online without needing to see an optometrist or optician. You can pretty much buy eyeglasses as long as you have a prescription. What’s more interesting is that this way allows for people to self-serve. It gives people choices and, most importantly, the freedom of choice and lower prices to enhance the well-being of one’s life.
But for most of us who have severe to profound hearing, we won’t have the option to choose as we are still locked in the prisons of the old rules. Major hearing aid manufacturers are lobbying to hold on to us in developed countries because we provide lots of revenue potential with the high price tags.
For now, we may be sitting on the sideline, but with the new laws for over-the-counter hearing aids, we are starting to see the cracks within the industry. Finally, the truths are coming out. We are becoming more educated and knowledgeable now than what was hidden behind the walls before.
Here’s what you need to know. First, there is nothing medical regarding our severe to profound hearing loss. When was the last time you went to a nose, throat and ear doctor? Probably years, if you are like most of us. Unless your hearing loss is a side effect of a severe medical condition, your hearing loss is a natural part of you. To make hearing loss a medical condition is sending the world a message that we are ill and need medical intervention
I’ve often heard that hearing loss can cause medical conditions like dementia. I learned that the problem stems from hearing loss bias and people living in denial that they have a hearing problem. This is much different for those who are proactive with our hearing loss finding alternative ways of communicating with or without hearing aids.
The argument that many hearing specialists who are lobbying against the new FDA approval of over-the-counter hearing aids said that people are not capable of caring for themselves properly. They believe that by giving people the freedom to choose their own hearing aids, they may not bother to go to the doctor but opt to buy a hearing aid to fix the situation. People may damage their hearing that they have. They believe that this will cause a public health situation.
I don’t think this argument is substantial by any chance. For example, with contact lenses or eyeglasses purchased online, we would see similar behaviours if people had eye infections or any eye problems. People go to the doctor first. The last place that most people would go is online to buy an eyeglass to fix the problem themselves.
In a similar situation, we have to realize that people experiencing hearing loss for the first time do not want or are not confident with self-diagnosing themselves. They will contact their doctor first to understand why their hearing loss has occurred. Those in denial about their hearing loss are pressured by family and friends to get their hearing checked to prove they need to take action.
Also, most places that sell FDA-approved hearing aids do not need medical training or nor can they diagnose the cause of your hearing loss. Pharmacists, who hand out prescribed drugs, can’t make a medical diagnosis. Similarly, those who service hearing aids are also not otologist. Audiologist works to manage the hearing, and otologist work to treat the ear such as ear infections, vertigo and any pains.
The fear of change within the industry is felt by the new law. The customers are key players in this new world. This is unsettling for your audiologist, who are the middleman between hearing aid manufacturers and you. That relationship is changing, and the industry as a whole is changing.
Many industries in our current times have changed to skip the middleman and where consumers are in control, as it should be. We saw it with mattress companies like Endy, where you didn’t need to go to a mattress store. Uber and Lyft taught us about skipping a whole taxi industry altogether. Even eyeglasses from Warby Parker can now be purchased online without visiting an optometrist.
By skipping the audiologist, the price you pay for hearing aids is reduced because the cost is not going towards salary, rent, pieces of equipment and other business expenses for 3-5 years between your visits to the audiologist.
There are many more hearing aids manufacturers than Phonak, Oticon, Siemens, and Resound, Widex. Unfortunately, we only hear these companies because the manufacturers agree with the audiologists to sell to you exclusively. Suppose you are looking for advice and someone is legally bounded to only share a few brands with you. In that case, you are not getting the whole picture and opportunities to improve your hearing quality and life. I often wonder if there could be better technology solutions for you, but you would never know. Over-the-counter hearing aids will allow you to learn more about the various hearing aids out there because these manufacturers will be communicating directly with you.
There is a widespread belief that hearing aids for people with higher levels of hearing loss need to have customization. We can’t generalize everyone’s hearing in such that we all hear the same way. Audiologists and hearing dispensers are trained to match our hearing chart to specific hearing levels and frequencies. However, the over-the-counter hearing aids are providing self-service using a smartphone app. They would allow you to customize your hearing aids to suit you instead of making multiple visits and appointments to get adjusted.
Many over-the-counter hearing aid brands have revealed that the hearing aids under the FDA and those available over the counter are essentially the same thing. There isn’t anything special for FDA-approved products vs. those that are not. The only difference is how the refer or call the hearing device that is FDA approved. If there is an FDA product, it will be called hearing aids. If not, manufacturers will not be able to call it a hearing aid.
When more than 5 companies dominate the hearing care market, this allows companies to bring back the focus to you, the buyer. Hearing aid users were not the top priority with the old ways of doing business. The business model allows manufacturers to avoid connecting with you directly and hearing your feedback. When that happens, there is little incentive to help bring innovative solutions that can help people with hearing loss thrive in all aspects of their lives.
From the sounds of things, we should, but the FDA hasn’t precisely given us the opportunity yet. So we will continue to have to pay the high price for our hearing loss. Still, I hope that things open up as new innovation takes place. Based on that, we will see an opportunity to revisit the rules. Right now, they think our situation is a medical problem. Which I wholeheartedly disagree. You and I are not ill. Don’t you agree?!
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