Buyer Beware - Consumer infomation about buying hearing aids from Dr. Deborah Touchette, Au.D. Chico and Paradise
Choosing a hearing aid and hearing aid provider can be a difficult decision. In the State of CA there are two licensed professionals that can sell and fit hearing aids -1) A Hearing Aid Dispenser and 2) A Dispensing Audiologist. In Butte County most hearing aid offices do not have an Audiologist in the practice. In the Chico, Paradise, and Oroville area there are over a dozen hearing aid offices - only 3 of those offices have a licensed Audiologist on site. All the other offices are licensed hearing aid dispensers. As an Audiologist that also fits hearing aids I was required to have an Audiology license and a Hearing Aid Dispenser license until 2009. Obtaining the hearing dispensers license was relatively simple. The only educational requirement is a high school diploma. No vocational training or education is required. In fact, it is one of the only licenses issued by the state of CA that does not require some vocational training. Barbering and Cosmetology licenses require proof of training but hearing aid dispensing does not! I say this to help you understand the difference between an Audiologist and a dispenser and that difference is education. Beginning 2009 in California there are now two different licenses for professionals that fit hearing aids: The Hearing Aid Dispenser and the Dispensing Audiologist. Now consumers can identify who is selling and fitting their hearing aid(s). A hearing aid dispenser will often say that an Audiologist's education concentrates on the diagnostic procedures whereas the dispenser is a hearing instrument specialist. That may have been true many decades ago but now Audiologists study hearing aid amplification and technology formally from the university they graduate from. Not to mention that many of the professionals developing new hearing aid technologies, and the professionals from the hearing aid manufacturers training the hearing aid dispensers... are Audiologists.
In my practice I employ a Hearing Aid Dispenser. We both sell and fit hearing aids. We understand the scope of practice of our two different licenses. We work as a team to provide superior service.
Unfortunately I am aware of the less than ethical practices of some providers. FDA guidelines for fitting hearing aids are not always followed. People were sold what they thought were "high end" hearing aids and received a "low end" model... I am not speculating on this, I have the evidence. This is not the norm in
Re-Branded and Private Label Hearing Aids
I am a private practice that is not beholden to any one hearing aid manufacturer giving the consumer a wide choice of options. There are “private labels” out there in the hearing aid market that make it difficult for a patient to do an apple to apples comparison of features and pricing. Some private and/or franchise labels are:
Another point to consider is that the original parent companies do not give their newest technology to the re-branded label immediately. When GN ReSound or Siemens develops a new model, Miracle Ear and Beltone won't be able to sell that technology until sometime down the road.
Free Hearing Test
Consumers are often confused about why some offices give free hearing tests and why some do not. I am an Audiologist provider for Medicare. Medicare will pay for my testing services when referred by a Physician. It is considered insurance fraud for me to bill Medicare for one patient and then provide free testing for the next. Therefore I do not provide free hearing tests. A California hearing aid dispenser's license does not license the dispenser to perform audiological exams and it would be illegal to charge for the hearing aid candidacy testing (screening) they perform. The testing provided by a dispenser should in no way be considered a diagnostic exam. It is a screening test to determine if you are eligible for hearing aids. The CA Department of Consumer Affairs is very clear about this and requires all dispensers to include a disclaimer about their free testing (i.e., to determine your need for hearing aids).
Low Price Hearing Aid Ads
I saw an ad locally the other day that advertised a very low priced hearing aid but showed the picture of an expensive high end model. The ad also spoke of features that were in the high end model. I can tell you that the model of hearing aid that they alluded to was in no way the cost that they were advertising. Oh, the ad did cover its tail by telling you exactly what model was being sold at the low price but what it did not tell you is that the picture and the feature also toted were not the same model. Hearing aid model names are not common knowledge and most consumers would never know which model is better. The low price is to get your attention and get you in the door.
Confusing Titles and Certifications
The license title of "Hearing Aid Dispenser" is not always professional enough for the dispenser when it comes to selling hearing aids. So a variety of independent certifications are available to help give credibility to the dispenser. For me, knowing the hearing aid technology is not enough; you must also have the knowledge of the human auditory system from ear to brain. Then you can make an expert fit between hearing aid and patient.
The following information was taken directly from the CA Department of Consumer Affairs Web site http://www.dca.ca.gov/hearingaid/consumers/mail_order.shtml
• To work effectively, hearing aids must fit correctly. If a mail-order/internet sale doesn't involve personal contact with a licensed dispenser, it's difficult for you to benefit from a proper fitting.
• Always deal with a licensed Hearing Aid Dispenser, to take best advantage of