Should You Shop Online for Hearing Aids?

Tim Wright
CEO, Embrace Hearing

Tim Wright, the CEO of major online retailer Embrace Hearing, answers questions about the changing marketplace and offers advice on taking your business to the web.  

How expensive is the average pair of hearing aids?

That depends where you buy. While the average price paid for a pair if hearing aids is $4,700 according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, there is a wide range — from about $1000 up to $7,500 — depending on what you buy and where you buy. For example, the average price when you purchase online is well less than half of what you would pay at retail.

Why are hearing aids so expensive?

First of all, there is a tremendous amount of technology in hearing aids and it is constantly being updated to provide an even better listening experience. And everything has to be extremely small in order to discreetly fit in or behind your ear. Then there is the licensed professional staff required to program and service the devices. Then, if you buy at retail, you have to cover the cost of the retail office and office staff. This retail cost can add $2,000 to $4,000 to pair of hearing aids. Buying online avoids that retail upcharge.

How do patients find the right hearing aid to fit their needs?

First of all, if you suspect you have hearing loss, you should go see an audiologist or ENT doctor to get a hearing test. Be sure to offer to pay for your test. Often, if the test is free, they won’t give you a copy of the results, which means you won’t be able to shop around. Depending on the results of the test, the Audiologist may suggest you consider hearing aids, and they will make a suggestion that meets your hearing needs. Then, it is recommended you do some research online to find out if the price quoted is fair and reasonable for the technology you need.

What innovations in hearing care allow hearing aids to be more accessible?

In 2011, in an effort to make hearing aids less expensive and more accessible, the FDA began to allow hearing aids to be sold online, provided a hearing test was done in person by a licensed hearing professional. This is when premium online businesses began to appear.

Is buying hearing aids online for everyone?

While you can save from $2,000 to $4,000 by buying online from a premium online company, it’s not for everyone. Are you willing to pick up the phone or write an email and ask for help? If quality and the best possible hearing aid price are your primary concerns, then buying online may be the right way to go. But take care to look for a premium online retailer. There are many small companies selling cheap hearing devices — look for companies that require a hearing test to be performed in person (not online) to be sure your programming is optimized.

Smart hearing involves technology that allows people affected by hearing deficiencies to compensate for their impairment as best as possible. Using Bluetooth or wireless technology, present-day hearing systems are connectable to almost any smartphone, mobile phone, TV set or external microphone. Operated by an app, the smartphone doubles as a remote control. Loudness, sound and programs for different requirements are controllable. Phone calls and music can also be streamed directly to the hearing instruments. Hearing impaired individuals using innovative hearing technology may even hear better than those with normal hearing.

The critical connection

Smart hearing is ideal for people with impaired hearing, as it permits them to stay tuned and take part in social interaction relying on modern communication devices, boosting their quality of life. Those who live a life in isolation due to their hearing deficiencies are more often affected by health issues and depression. The latest studies conducted by French professor Hélène Amieva show that people with unaided hearing loss lose their cognitive abilities up to forty percent sooner than individuals without hearing impairment or who have been fitted with hearing systems.

Efficient use of hearing systems is guaranteed by fitting them to suit the wearer's individual habits and requirements. Hearing aid acousticians are specialists; they advise on the choice and fit of hearing systems, explain how to use them, educate users on their management and provide follow-up services.

The unexpected application

On principle, smart hearing is suitable for everyone, even for those without hearing loss. People appreciate an undisturbed and clear sound quality, such as while listening to music or making phone calls. Ambient noise is reduced and speech and other signals can be transmitted using smart hearing technology. This makes it interesting for musicians and presenters in particular. All those who wish to find out more about smart hearing should see their hearing aid acoustician or audiologist to take a hearing test.

The fitting process

The hearing aid acoustician will fit the hearing instrument taking the user's personal requirements into account. It may be worthwhile to try out several manufacturers or technologies. We do not really hear with our ears, but with our brain. Therefore, hearing is a cognitive task that requires training to improve auditory performance, just as every individual needs time to learn his or her native language — more precisely, to learn it by listening. The longer one has suffered from hearing impairment, the longer it will take to relearn hearing. This requires patience! Hearing aid fitting can sometimes take several weeks.

The exciting future

In the future, hearing technology will embrace a number of additional fields of application, opening up new areas of communication such as live interpretation. Monitoring vital life functions will be possible in the near future. Even today, smartphones alert users to take medication or remember an appointment. The 62nd International Congress of Hearing Aid Acousticians is scheduled to take place in Nuremberg, Germany in October 2017. Hearing aid companies will be showcasing the latest developments in smart hearing, and specialists will discuss the future of connected hearing. It’s an event not to be missed by any hearing health care professional.