Dr. Amy White discusses the drawbacks of purchasing discount “hearing aids” online. While magazines and insurance benefits may make hearing technology available on the internet seem attractive, these devices are often low-level technology that are one-size-fits-all. Prescriptive hearing aids from top manufacturers are fit by hearing care experts and provide much better results for patients suffering from hearing loss.
Hi, I’m Dr. Amy White, audiologist and owner at Elk Grove Hearing Care. Today I’m going to talk to you about online hearing aids: What the heck are these things, and why are they so cheap? It never fails that every week we have patient after patient call us and ask about some hearing aid that they purchased online and whether or not we can help them with it. The answer is, most often, unfortunately, no.
If you happen to buy hearing aids online that are from a major manufacturer – and we count those major brands as something like Widex or Phonak or Oticon or Unitron or ReSound, Starkey, Siemens or Signia – those would be the major brands. If you happen to come across those online and are purchasing them, chances are you’re purchasing them from a place that is not supported at all by the manufacturer.
Manufacturers of these hearing aids, so far, sell them through a channel, which requires a consumer to go through an audiologist or a hearing health care provider. They are not meant to be sold online or fit online because they can’t be physically fit to your ear online. So when you purchase these hearing aids through eBay or other places such as that, these hearing aids aren’t supported by the manufacturer and oftentimes will be confiscated by the manufacturer if they happen to go in for repair, so buyer beware on those.
More often we get calls about hearing aids that were purchased through a magazine or through some sort of insurance benefit. These hearing aids you may find are often called like MD Hearing Aids, would be an example, or High Health Innovations. In fact, I think there’s even a lot of advertisements in like your AARP magazines or even though some Medicare programs where they’ll say you have this great hearing aid benefit and you can get this awesome hearing aid for $500, and it turns out it’s from MD Hearing Aids or from High Health Innovations.
These hearing aids are not anything like real hearing aids; they really function as an amplifier. They don’t have very much noise reduction, and many other features that hearing aids have. When you purchase these hearing aids, the idea is that you send in a copy of your hearing test so that the hearing aids are pre-programmed for you, if you’re lucky.
In other cases, the hearing aids just come pre-programmed with a few different settings, and you’re supposed to choose the one that sounds like it would work the best for you, without them knowing anything about your hearing loss. The problem with that, of course, is then how the hearing aid physically fits in your ear has a lot to do with the sound quality. So are you using a tip on the end that has a lot of holes in it versus one that’s closed up? Do you need one that’s custom-made? Are you accidentally over-amplifying your hearing loss, which in turn could lead to further hearing loss and damaging your ears. Are you wearing something that is giving you very little benefit so you feel like you spent the $500 and aren’t getting anything for your money?
Fitting hearing aids online is definitely not something that has been perfected because it’s like we just hand you a box of items and you have to figure out how to put it together and how to make it fit your ear right, and then how do you even know if it’s doing what it’s supposed to do? The only way to know that is performing Real Ear measures, which we talked about in a different video, where we can measure exactly how much volume is coming out of the hearing aids and hitting your eardrum.
Without doing any of those kinds of tests, there is no ability to know how well those hearing aids are working for you. So purchasing online or through magazines, even if they seem trustworthy, is a very dicey situation. Something to consider: If you can afford, you know, top quality hearing aids, there are lots of other options and foundations that are made to help you out. But really think twice before purchasing online or through magazines, because really all of the onus of making those hearing aids work falls directly on you, and there is not much the rest of us can do.
MD Hearing Aids and High Health Innovations are similar to a lot of the brands that are picked up by Costco in that they are proprietary software, so even if someone like me wanted to help you and wanted to reprogram them, it’s not possible. It’s locked and it’s software that can only be manipulated by those dealers of those products.
So, buyer beware, and if you have other any questions, please come see us at Elk Grove Hearing Care.