Is it true that some hearing aids are locked? I am considering purchasing hearing aids at Costco, but want to be sure I can have them adjusted elsewhere (in case I move, etc).

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Duane Smelser, HIS - Hearing Healthcare Provider in Portland
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Yes.  At Costco, the brand that is has proprietary software is Kirkland, which is made by Resound. Other proprietary brands available elsewhere are Miracle Ear (made by Siemens), Audibel (made by Starkey), Oticon aids purchased from Avada (corporate owned stores).  There are probably more but these are the ones I'm most familiar with.  It's important to know that purchasing one of these proprietary brands locks you in to having to get all follow up programming and service from that company.  After working for two of these in the past, when I decided to open my own office, I decided to offer and service all non-proprietary brands which are offered by the six major makers.  That way people are free to get service from others anywhere they might be.  I also recommend you take a serious look (beyond what the salesperson says) at what you get for your money.  The axiom "You get what you pay for" definitely applies when it comes to hearing aids.  Low cost always comes with giving up something that you discover at somepoint was not worth it.  And, it's also possible to pay far too much from hearing aids when you go to companies with high overhead (aka: layers of management to pay, expensive advertising, high rent districts, etc.) 

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Amy Swain, AuD - Hearing Healthcare Provider in Rochester
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Yes, the Kirkland brand aids are locked at Costco.  I am an independent audiologist in private practice and am constantly asked to reprogram hearing aids that are locked from Beltone, Audibel, Avada, Miracle Ear and Costco.   When you buy a hearing aid the person you buy it from should be the most important factor.  How qualified are they in their occupation?  How much experience do they have?   Most of these familiar brand names are sold by dispensers without a lot of experience.   I am always surprised when someone wants to buy a hearing aid in a warehouse type of environment.   Also, the hearing aids available at Costco typically are the older technology from the major 6 manufacturer's of hearing aids.

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Member User - 3 months ago
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Hmmm....I work in a warehouse and have numerous happy hearing aid wearers. I guess it does have something to do with the person you buy it from. I'm never surprised when someone wants to go to a warehouse, private practice, V.A. or anywhere else because at least they are seeking help! And if any one location creates a happy wearer it improves the public perception of what it means to wear hearing aids which helps the entire industry.

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Melanie
Melanie Herzfeld, AuD - Doctor of Audiology in Woodbury
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It is my understanding that the aids from Costco are locked. In truth, you can buy aids costing the same amount at many audiologists' offices and these aids would not be locked. The other factor to consider is the year of technology; that is, when the aids you are buying were designed. Are they old technology or new?  And what features are in the aids that you need. Are there loaners available if your aids are on the fritz? Are there probe mic measures being taken to insure that the aids are performing as they should? We like our patients to choose their products based on their needs, taking price point into consideration.

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Gene Woodard, PhD - Hearing Healthcare Provider in Tulsa
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YES - there are many hearing aids that are locked.  The problem with buying a 'name brand' from COSTCO is that you cannot get that aid serviced anywhere but costco.  I recently had a patient bring me a ReSound FUTURE. i'd never heard of that model and when i tried to read it, i could not.  the aids were given to the patient so when she called to find out where the aids originally came from, they were from Costco.  They were a ReSound brand, but unreadable by standard ReSound software.

For a few years we worked with the Starkey product called NuEar.  Starkey makes 5 products, all identical.  An Audibel aid cannot be read by starkey software or NuEar software, and vice versa. However, Audibel and NuEar dealers CAN read starkey branded aids - they show up as the audibel or nuear model names.  This is a marketing technique.  NuEar and Audibel dealers have protected territories so, accordingly, the aids are protected too which prevents a patient from seeking services elsewhere.  It also prevents a less than honest dispenser from jacking with a fitting.

Miracle Ear aids are Siemens aids but the Siemens software will not talk to the Miracle Ear aid and vice versa.  Miracle Ear dispensers are franchised dispensers.  So again,. to help protect their franchise patients, the software is locked to prevent non-miracle ear dispensers from messing with a franchise fitting.

The good thing about hearing aids being locked is that it protects the franchisees investment.  the bad thing about locked hearing aids is that it prevents a reputiable dispenser or audiologist from helping a patient in need.  the pateint may purchase from a franchise location in their hometown but then for various reasons they are relocated to a different city in which there is no franchise dispenser.  If it is a Starkey product, there is a work around in the software.  However, with other manufacturers, the patient is often out of luck. 

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Justin Stack - Hearing Healthcare Provider in Capitola
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Yes, some hearing aids are locked. Here's how it works, if you are buying a franchise branded hearing aid (Miracle-Ear, Bernafon, Beltone, Audibel, Avada, etc.) then you can only have those adjusted at that brands locations. Some of those locations are locally owned and part of the franchise and some are corporate, but Costco is in its own camp. All Costco's hearing aids, last I checked, can only be adjusted at other Costcos. Even if they carry a brand name like ReSound, Oticon, or Phonak, if the hearing aid(s) were purchased from Costco, they can only be adjusted and serviced through Costco.

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Ellen Nathan, MA - Hearing Healthcare Provider in Glendale
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YES!  They cannot be programmed outside Costco.  The Phonak aids were originally unlocked, but I tried programming a patient's aid last week, and my software wouldn't detect it.  I had to send him back to Costco.

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Kathleen Haasch, AuD - Doctor of Audiology in Sheboygan
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Yes, Costco has Proprietary software for their products, just as other franchises have which limits with a key the accessiblity from otheres to make any changes or adjustments in the  programs. This limits the paients ability to have a second option and adjustments other than at Costco. I have run into a sitaution twice, where the Patient requested that I ask the manufacturer for the aids to be unlocked and they have refused to unlock the software so the settings could not be changed. The patient purchased new products at our office with unlocked software and were very satisfied.  In our case, we have products with unlocked software and equally good cost values and open software. Good luck. 

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Audiologist jeff clark
Jeff Clark, AuD - Doctor of Audiology in Tampa
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Yes.  That is absolutely true.  I've been locked out of over 200 devices that I could have supported but the franchises lock up the software to drive the patients back to the franchise.  Good luck.

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Sheri Gostomelsky, AuD - Doctor of Audiology in Deerfield
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The answer to your question is yes. But consider this as well as I play the devil's advocate. There are 6 major hearing aid manufacturers in the market place and if you move to another part of the country you may also find yourself on a quest to find a provider to service what you purchased. Not every practice carries all of the major brands. What should be of greatest concern is finding the right provider to take care of your needs.
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Lynn M Firestone, AuD - Doctor of Audiology in Farmington
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While I agree with the above responses, it is possible to re-program the Phonak product from Costso. Be aware that if you see a provider who is willing to take you in as a patient, that you will pay that service provider for their time and expertise. 

Lynn Firestone, AuD

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Member Noreen Gibbens - 3 months ago
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When in doubt, I would suggest that consumers contact the toll-free number for the manufacturer. You would need the serial number for the devices. The major companies all have this sort of support, and it is usually awesome. I think I took it for granted for many years, but then went into a program in which there was really no connection with an audiologist working within the manufacturer's facility. The most basic questions were a challenge. Count me as happy to be working again with the long-standing hearing aid companies that have been at this awhile, with staff that can speak the same "audiology" language. I am not certain about the specifics of Costco's locking or not. We would be happy to try to work with hearing aids purchased that way, assuming the patients understood there is a fee for doing so.

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