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Is Costco a good place to buy hearing aids?

Clifford Olson, AuD

Audiologist in Anthem

12 March 2018 - 3.23K Views

It depends.  If you can find a Costco with a good provider and you don't mind hearing aids that are mildly de-featured then Costco may be a good option.  If you can't find Costco with a good provider or you want hearing aids that are not de-featured at all then Costco may not be a good option for you.  You also have to consider cost.  Costco hearing aids are significantly cheaper than hearing aids purchased in a typical audiology clinic.  Just make sure they use best practices like Real Ear Measurement when you go for your fitting.

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Melissa LaVanway
Melissa LaVanway 12 March 2018
Costco has premium level hearing instruments at the basic level price. You are incorrect in your statement that the hearing instruments are de-featured. Real Ear Measurement is part of Costco's protocol and is practiced at every single fitting.
Christopher S. Frink
Christopher S. Frink 13 March 2018 Replied to Melissa LaVanway
Actually, Dr. Olson is correct. Some features have been removed from Costco hearing aids at their request (to the manufacturer) because they involve long-term follow-up care and more of a time commitment, such as tinnitus management. In this situation, Costco wishes to keep their focus on the hearing aid fitting and not put a lot of additional appointments into tinnitus treatment, which can be very time consuming and is generally outside of the scope of practice of a hearing instrument specialist. Costco does employ a few audiologists, who have it within their scope of practice to work with tinnitus, but the majority of their hearing professionals are dispensers, not audiologists. Costco does follow FDA guidelines in this area, and proves the point that their products are defeatured for this reason, among others.

Melissa Wikoff, AuD

Doctor of Audiology in Marietta

13 March 2018 - 3.15K Views

A big box store is definitely not a place for quality medical care. I shop at big box stores often for essentials like paper towels and soap.  I even use their butchers from time to time.  However, I would never consider entrusting my sense of hearing to them. Seek out a doctor of audiology who intensely trained to care for your hearing.

The best example I can give you is a patient of mine who found me because he was unhappy with his big box hearing aids and was seeking someone who could better program his devices. During his hearing exam, I noticed a few red flags. I asked him if he noticed a difference in hearing between his ears. He explained that the technician at Costco told him he had a “unique hearing loss” and he had been tested there for years. I referred him immediately to an Ear, Nose, and Throat physician and recommended an MRI based on his test results. He called me later to thank me for being so thorough, because it turned out he had an acoustic neuroma. Our ears can be a wi Dow to other health issues, so is important to consider who to trust with your health.

Many people purchase glasses at Costco and equate that to hearing aids. Hearing aids require much more long term care than glasses.  While glasses typically consist of just lenses and frames, hearing aids are far more complex.  They are like tiny computers that sit in your ear.  It’s also a common misconception that hearing aids just make everything louder.  These days they are actually far more sophisticated than that.  They have the ability to programmatically amplify only the frequencies and pitches that you need, adjust to different acoustic environments, help to lower background noise, and much more.  The capabilities are truly amazing.  But like any great piece of technology, they require long-term care. Hearing aids may require repairs, maintenance, reprogramming, and cleaning throughout their life.  This is just another reason why it’s so important to have a good continuous relationship with your audiologist.

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C. Scott Mills, AuD

Doctor of Audiology in Clemmons

13 March 2018 - 3.16K Views

Costco uses good enough hearing aids. The question you should ask your specific dispenser is "How long have you been dispensing hearing aids?" If the answer is less than 5 years find another place. Like any other professional you hire, your hearing improvement will mostly depend on their experience and expertise. I had a contractor put siding on my house and it turned out awful while another, more experienced contractor reinstalled the exact same siding and it turned out perfectly. I wasn't buying siding as much as I was the expertise of the installer. Your hearing  improvement is exactly the same - the hearing aids are only as good as the dispenser and you need someone with experience. The second question is to ask whether they are a hearing aid specialist or an audiologist. There is a genuine difference in the knowledge base of these two; hearing instruments specialists learn primarily on the job while audiologists first have university training for several years followed by experience on the job. This knowledge difference can be critical to your success, or lack thereof, with hearing aids. 

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Patricia Jo Munson, AuD

Audiologist: Hearing Healthcare Provider in Seattle

13 March 2018 - 3.16K Views

Similar to the other providers answers, choosing your healthcare professional involves trust, expertise, availability, consistency  as well as rapport!  You may select a Costco and have 3 different providers before you even walk out the door!  What I may suggest is consider a private practice.  Pricing and selection is very dependent upon the needs of each patient and no two patients are exactly alike.  The four pillars of decision making are: budget, audiogram, Hearing goals and cosmetics.   In private practice we are not tied to one manufacturer, our selection is based on achieving your goals!  If that is best hearing possible, wonderful.  If that is budget, wonderful.  Private practice providers have a totally wide open array of selections, much more than “retail” or often even hospital based clinics.   Do your research on the best provider in your area, your ears deserve it!

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Charles Noble Lednum, III, MA

Staff Audiologist/Owner in Cambridge

13 March 2018 - 3.16K Views

Seriously consider...

If you invest in hearing aids from Costco, not only are ALL of the above and below comments true, but you will be locked into receiving all of your hearing care from only Costco until you replace the aids you bought with new aids that are NOT Costco.  Costco hearing aids can only be programmed by Costco.  If you are having problems with the aids, only a Costco provider can program it.  If there is only 1 provider at Costco, and there is a problem, that is who you will have to see.  If you really like the Costco provider you buy from, and they leave Costco, you will only be able to see the replacement representative.  The best hearing aid in the world will not help if it isn't programmed well today and again when your hearing changes in the future as your hearing very well may change as you age.  Once you "hitch you wagon" to Costco you are with them until you replace your "wagon".  And this is true of all the big box stores selling hearing aids.  Price is important in the purchase, but if you don't receive good hearing for the duration you own the hearing aids (i.e.; follow-up care), have you invested wisely and additionally, really saved anything at all?

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Christopher S. Frink
Christopher S. Frink 13 March 2018
This isn't entirely true. Phonak hearing aids purchased at Costco (the "Brio" lines) CAN be programmed by non-Costco outside providers who have the Phonak software and equipment to do so. For most of the other brands, however, you are correct, which is always a danger of purchasing from a chain (such as Miracle Ear and Beltone), in that their software is proprietary and cannot be accessed by independent providers.
Charles Noble Lednum, III
Charles Noble Lednum, III 13 March 2018 Replied to Christopher S. Frink
There is a much greater danger in buying from Costco than from "chains" such as Beltone and Miracle Ear due to significantly restricted access which was my point, as the consumer has very little option to find assistance elsewhere should problems arise with a given location or provider. In searching Google for how many locations of Costco there are in the US... "In 2017, Costco operated a total of 741 warehouses worldwide. Of those, there were 514 Costco warehouses in the U.S. and Puerto Rico combined." A similar search for the number of Miracle Ear locations reported... "More than 1,300 stores across the United States", on Miracle Ear's website and... "As of 2014 it has more than 1,200 locations in the United States", on Wikipedia. While Wikipedia reported the number of Beltone locations to be... 'In North America, Beltone has over 1500 independently owned "hearing care centers".' Both Miracle Ear and Beltone offer many more locations (easily 2 to 3 times as many locations in the US) to service patients needs. Costco was not created to provide hearing health care. Costco was however created to supply a consumer with a product under the premise of discounted cost. Only a subset of consumers will buy the Phonak units you mention, the rest are locked into dealing with Costco. (And I'm guessing that these Phonak units are some of the more costly units sold in comparison to their Kirkland signature brand which is contrary to what most consumers are looking for (i.e., discounted price) when shopping at Costco. Most of these consumers are not giving much thought to "what happens if things don't work out with these hearing aids and this provider, where can I turn...". Obviously, 2 to 3 times fewer places than when they purchase at locations such as Miracle Ear or Beltone whose only focus is hearing health care (not gigantic jars of pickles and huge packages of toilet paper). Consumers need to seriously consider what they invest in when making purchases and why things cost what they do. Everything today seems like it boils down to price. We live in the age of Walmart and Amazon who consume everything and everyone in the name of the lowest price. There is a significant COST to reducing everything to the lowest price in that it is easy to strip out SERVICE when it looks like what is being bought is only a device. If you don't believe me, wait until over-the-counter hearing aids are being sold. This is the ultimate example of turning Audiology/Hearing Health Care into a commodity only and neglecting/denying the importance of what providers do to help patients succeed with hearing aids. Perhaps, Costco will shutter their dispenseries when over-the-counter hearing aids hit the market, and only provide these aids on their stock shelves as they can rededicate the space saved to more product that can be sold in addition to selling hearing aids too?!?!
Christopher S. Frink
Christopher S. Frink 14 March 2018 Replied to Charles Noble Lednum, III
I don't disagree with most of your points. My original intent was to correct the misinformation that ALL of Costco's hearing aids are locked which is not true, as I indicated and you essentially conceded in your response. But I completely agree with your take on how "locking" fittings as they, Miracle Ear, Beltone, and other offices do is inappropriate and a disservice to the consumer--regardless of how many locations they have. And despite ME and Beltone having substantially more location, Costco is the second largest retailer of hearing aids in the United States, only behind the Veterans Administration when it comes to sheer volume. Therein lies the problem with Costco; their focus is on volume, not quality service. The consumer needs to understand that better hearing doesn't come through the device, but as a result of essentially what amounts to physical therapy to rehabilitate their hearing loss. This requires time and attention to detail, something that a volume-oriented company like Costco is hard-pressed to provide. While the hearing aids they provide are generally of good quality, the results for the patient depends significantly more upon the skills of the provider, which can vary significantly regardless of whether it is Costco or an independent provider. Where consistency IS seen in the provider is among audiologists, who have formalized training in a university setting. By contrast, hearing instrument specialists generally have "on-the-job" training, and are only as good as their trainers. This being the case, since Costco Hearing Centers are predominantly staffed by hearing instrument specialists and they employ very few audiologists, the consumer's odds for obtaining the best results are usually better with an independent audiologist than a Costco-trained dispenser. While a consumer may receive "adequate" results for a cheaper price at Costco, they will usually obtain "better" results if they are willing to pay the difference and receive a more comprehensive fitting by an independent audiologist.

Patricia Jo Munson, AuD

Audiologist: Hearing Healthcare Provider in Seattle

13 March 2018 - 3.16K Views

Similar to the other providers answers, choosing your healthcare professional involves trust, expertise, availability, consistency  as well as rapport!  You may select a Costco and have 3 different providers before you even walk out the door!  What I may suggest is consider a private practice.  Pricing and selection is very dependent upon the needs of each patient and no two patients are exactly alike.  The four pillars of decision making are: budget, audiogram, Hearing goals and cosmetics.   In private practice we are not tied to one manufacturer, our selection is based on achieving your goals!  If that is best hearing possible, wonderful.  If that is budget, wonderful.  Private practice providers have a totally wide open array of selections, much more than “retail” or often even hospital based clinics.   Do your research on the best provider in your area, your ears deserve it!

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Member
Member 28 June 2018
How does one determine “best” provider???

Sheri Gostomelsky, AuD

Doctor of Audiology in Deerfield

12 March 2018 - 3.21K Views

It is important to understand that a hearing aid is only part of the solution in treating a hearing loss.  Most studies show that the care you receive has a significant impact on your success.  Where you choose to do business should be your choice.  Are you comfortable with Costco?   Does the provider know what is important to you?  Will the provider be there for you when you need help?  Does the provider use best practices and make evidence based decisions?  Are your hearing needs needs being met?   Remember that any device is only as good as the professional that handles it.  Best of luck.

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Charles Balyozian, BC-HIS

Hearing Healthcare Provider in Lexington

12 March 2018 - 3.21K Views

If price is the sole criteria for your choice of amplification, Costco is the place for you. The question you should be asking is “what is the level of commitment of Costco to help me with my hearing loss?” Only you can answer that question.

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Dawn Sanchez

Board Certified and Licensed Hearing Aid Specialist in Mesa

12 March 2018 - 3.22K Views

This depends on what you are looking for and what kind of service with instruments you require.  Although the price is less than Hearing Aid Practices and Audiology Clinics, you need to check on the quality and experience of the service provider.  A private practice is designed to assist your needs as an individual with whatever product or technology is best suited for your needs.  Most practices have available more than three or four choices from one manufacturer.  Also warranties and battery options should be something to look into.  I wish you well with your research!

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Discussion

Michael Vavrek
Michael Vavrek 12 March 2018
I would not recommend it. Costco has trouble retaining employees and are hiring all the time. If you want professional and reliable service, go to a medical facility or private practice Audiologist or Hearing Specialist. Most will do their best to lower the price but the difference you are paying is well worth it.
Member
Member 24 August 2018 Replied to Michael Vavrek

"Costco is always hiring as they have a hard time retaining employees?"  Are you comparing shelf stockers to medical professionals? That's a pretty weak comparison and quite frankly, it doesn't reflect well for your argument that implies Costco is always hiring hearing medical professionals.  That could be considered somewhat slanderous if you intentionally misstate the facts.   My Costco audiologist has been there as long as I have been using Costco hearing aids.  Going on five years.  That equals zero turn over with no additional costs for hearing aid supplies or follow-up consultations which have included hearing tests to determine the amount of hearing loss from previous tests.  My private clinic audiologist charged me $100 for additional hearing tests.

I spent $7000 on aids from a private clinic audiologist that lasted for about three years, with numerous trips requiring the aids to be sent back to the mfg for repair, sometimes with a cost greater than $250 per hearing aid.  No extra cost if Costco sends the aids back for a repair.

My Costco audiologist fitted me with behind-the-ear aids that are far superior to the private clinic's aids with a cost of $2500.  $2500 is a lot better than $7000.   Costco included a three year warranty.  Four years if I paid with an American Express card. Today you may have to use the Costco Visa card.  My private audiologist gave me 90 days for a warranty period.  I've had my current Costco aids for nearly five years and they went back once with no extra charge.

This next point is a huge bonus.  If you need service where ever you are and there is a Costco nearby, they will tend to your needs without an extra cost.  I live in Chicago for eight months a year and Phoenix, AZ.  for four months a year.  I've received excellent service in both locations as your records are transmitted to all Costco locations.  Like their tire warranty and optical products as well.

To imply Costco has a hard time retaining hearing aid people is an extremely poor reflection on your ability and/or the desire to accurately present the facts.    As a more than satisfied Costco customer I will never, ever go back to my original private practice doctor of audiology.

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