Buying a hearing aid can feel like a daunting task, not just because it usually involves a substantial outlay, but because you’re probably buying this high-tech equipment for the first time, and comparing various devices isn’t easy.
If that’s how you or a loved one feel, you’re not alone – 80 percent of the Australians who’d benefit from hearing help put off the purchase because they believe it’ll be hard to find the right solution.
But there are ways to be a savvy hearing aid shopper – it’s just about knowing how the hearing industry operates and making it work for you rather than the other way around. Looking for a hearing health solution that puts you in control of your hearing from the beginning is a sure-fire way to leverage this industry knowledge.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published a damning report in 2017 into the activities of some audiologists and hearing clinics who were receiving commissions as high as 15 percent from hearing aid manufacturers, with the priciest hearing aids, retailing as much as $15,000 a pair, attracting the biggest commissions.
The salespeople typically didn’t tell clients that they were getting a juicy payment for selling certain devices, either.
“We are concerned about sales-based remuneration arrangements and performance frameworks, which create incentives for clinicians (audiologists and audiometrists) to supply hearing aids that are unnecessary or more expensive than a consumer needs,” the watchdog concluded.
Professor Peter Blamey, the renowned hearing scientist who co-founded BSH, says he and his partner, award-winning audiological scientist Dr Elaine Saunders, purposely designed their business around cutting out the middleman and selling direct to consumers.
Allowing customers to both test their hearing and order hearing aids online, then control the settings themselves rather than make repeat visits to a hearing clinic for programming, has enabled BSH to cut thousands of dollars from the cost of their devices.
The ACCC encourages customers to question their clinician on why they’re recommending a specific type of device, and whether they or their clinic receive a commission or some other incentive in return for selling it.
You may not need the features the highest priced devices come with anyway. Price doesn’t always reflect quality when it comes to hearing aids, emphasises BSH whose lowest priced model comes with advanced sound processing technology developed for the cochlear implant. You may not want or need the features the highest priced devices come with anyway.
The ACCC advises doing your research ahead of your appointment and asking your clinician to discuss the full range of hearing aids and features available. It’s a good idea to get a written quote so you can compare costs against other providers.
Also, ask your clinician about a trial period or the length of the refund period, then make sure to shop around to ensure you’re getting the best deal on the device you’ve chosen.
A hearing aid is only as good as its programming – as many consumers find if the ACCC’s report is anything to go by. The regulator reported that many hearing aid users were forced to have their settings adjusted in a clinic multiple times, yet still found them unhelpful in certain situations, such as noisy public places.
To save customers the financial burden and inconvenience of going to see an audiologist to perfect programming, BSH created a system called IHearYou® that gives users the ability to easily tweak their devices themselves, so settings are always in tune with their needs and listening environments.
“We designed IHearYou® to give people the capability to change [their hearing aids] fundamental settings using an intuitive app on their smartphone, tablet, or computer, on their own or with help from a tele-audiologist at any time,” Prof Blamey explains. “We wanted it to be simple and untechnical.”
As Choice, the consumer organisation, notes, hearing aids aren’t just a product; they’re part of a service relationship so practical issues such as the location of your audiologist or clinic, their opening hours and the ease of getting appointments are important considerations.
The decades Prof Blamey and Dr Saunders spent investigating hearing industry issues made them aware of the difficulty country residents have in accessing the range of hearing services enjoyed by city dwellers.
According to the National Rural Health Organisation of Australia, the incidence of hearing loss is one-fifth higher for people living in rural communities than for city dwellers because country areas tend to have more older residents than cities. But it’s much harder for people in rural areas to access treatment as they live far from GPs and hearing clinics. People who can’t easily leave home because of illness or disability are in the same boat.
To address this, BSH made their products and services accessible online, with hearing aids arriving at people’s homes in just a few days, already programmed with settings that can be controlled by the user without ever needing a clinic appointment.
Hearing aids can take some getting used to, especially if you’re a first-time user, so after-purchase support and coaching is an important consideration — especially if you decide to buy online. Make sure you ask your hearing aid provider about the rehabilitation and support services on offer.
BSH offers repairs and comprehensive programming and audiological support through traditional clinic outlets; clinicians who visit clients in rural and remote areas; phone and video consultations; and online Live Chat.
Prof Blamey says the message from the hearing industry has long been ‘hand over the control of your hearing health to an audiologist,’ which is exactly the opposite of the BSH approach.
“We decided what we wanted to do was to put the power with the end user and make them the centre of our business,” Prof Blamey explains. “We’ve handed them pricing transparency, programming control, and choice over the way they access support.” Research shows that this level of client involvement increases long-term satisfaction and hearing outcomes.
Take your time to make a decision and remember that it’s okay to walk away if you feel pressured or rushed. Shop around for the best deal, compare the offer you are looking at with others, and choose what’s right for you.
Have you shopped for a hearing aid? What did you base your final purchase decision on?
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