What are the risks of buying hearing aids online?

Paige Peterson, PhD

Audiologist

12 June 2017 - 6.79K Views

In general I would be wary. It is first and foremost not currently legal to be selling hearing aids online. These are typically being run without manufacturer knowledge and are hit with a cease and desist order fairly quickly. At that point any warranty outside of a manufacturer warranty tends to be voided. Now that aside, programming hearing aids is actually quite involved. What is on a piece of paper (your audiogram) is one half of the equation. What your brain does with the signal, and even the individual algorithm of that specific manufacturer is something else. Please know that the style and power of hearing aid that you should be wearing is based on the severity of your hearing loss. Different manufacturers are doing things like hearing speech in noise better than others and believe it or not, what sounds good to your friend Sue, may not sound good to you for many reasons. These include: 1) her hearing is probably different than yours  and 2) different cells have died between the two of you and therefore the signal getting to your brain will be different. Regular follow-up is vital for the first 6 weeks to ensure that they are tuned for the above mentioned factors as well as to train your brain to hear. This is not like wearing or buying a cute pair of shoes or a watch. This is a therapy tool, please remember that. All in all, I would be wary and caution against buying any medical therapy tool that involves the retraining of your brain online without professional advice.

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Steve Eagon

Professional Member

15 June 2017 - 6.68K Views

Hi Steven. As an audiologist (27 years) who has worked in the online consumer space with hearing devices for 18 years, and had the opportunity to help thousands of consumers over that time, I will provide a different perspective. First, federal law preempts any state licensing regulations which means it is NOT illegal to buy hearing aids online. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) hearing aid sales have been happening for as long as I can remember and there are outstanding business models available if you do your research. There are vast numbers of people who are happy with various online purchase options. Online purchase options can range from basic amplifiers for a few hundred dollars to some of the major brands for much more. Some local hearing professionals will provide additional programming and counseling for a service fee if you need it, but many online companies provide all the support you may need to have a successful experience.

Bottom line is that today's hearing aid technology has reached a point where you can be very satisfied with an online experience. Take some of what you've read from the other replies with a grain of salt given that online/DTC purchases disrupt the traditional way of doing things. All types of medical care and medical device sales are evolving right now and hearing aids are one of them. There are definitely reasons for working with a local hearing provider, and that may be the best option for you. Do your research. Visit with a local hearing professional and look at your options. Ask for a copy of your hearing test. Call some online stores and ask questions. You'll receive a trial period wherever you buy, so if you're not satisfied with any part of the purchase experience you'll be able to return the devices (get the details of the return policy). Just remember, every person does not need to purchase hearing aids from a traditional store/medical setting. As a healthcare consumer you have options.

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Audiologist in London

13 June 2017 - 6.75K Views

In the UK a company recently tried this route & suggested patients find an audiologist local to them to look after them & provide aftercare.

There are a few drawbacks with this method.

1) Sound is a very personal thing. If you had visited an audiologist & gone through the who process with them you may have picked a different aid entirely ie if you had listened to two or several back to back you may find the aid you had purchased from the internet provider is the one you like least.

2) You can only purchase instant fit CRT aids from internet providers. You may need custom tips or custom aids.

3) Although they suggest sending an audiogram in with the aid. What about feedback, over-all levels, Real Ear Measurements, Insitu-Audiometry. Simply sending an aid out to a patient with an audiogram in is not a fitting!

4) I challenged the firm offering this service. I said I wasn't convinced they offered the clients a saving. They agreed!

5) Choice. They claimed the benefit was choice, but some manufacturers will not support this business model.

6) You may not be able to find anyone to look after your hearing aids. 

I hope this helps.

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Danielle Gorsky, AuD

Doctor of Audiology

12 June 2017 - 6.78K Views

With hearing aids you have to let your brain adjust to hearing sounds again. Often times if you are a first time user we have to set the hearing aids lower until you get used to hearing sounds again then we adjust them. You don't just take hearing aids and go. You need a good service program with them to get them programmed correctly for your loss and help you adjust to them. Also to keep them working properly you should go to your audiologist for regular clean and check appointments. With hearing aids online your not getting service from an expert that is needed when purchasing hearing aids. 

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Mark Butler, AAS

Hearing Healthcare Provider

12 June 2017 - 6.78K Views

There are a number of potential risks or drawbacks to purchasing hearing aids online.  Hearing aids should be programmed specifically for an individual ear based on audiometric testing.  So the first issue is insuring the aids have been programmed from a fairly current hearing test.  There are many online places selling hearing aids and some of them are doing so without permission from the manufacturer.  One manufacturer sent out a letter stating they would not honor the warranty for any hearing aid sold through that particular company (risk #2).  While mild hearing losses can be accommodated with an initial fitting, most hearing losses should be fit by programming the hearing aids below the loss and then increasing the hearing aid amplification over time (and several office visits) as the brain accommodates the increased level of hearing.  Online companies don't do this themselves.  Some of them contract with a local provider to do the initial fitting and a set number of follow-up visits.  Others don't provide any local service at all.  This leads us to the third risk and it is a big one.  All hearing aids require periodic readjustment and maintenance for the patient to have the best results.  Even if your online company provides some initial support it is normally for not more than the first year.  After that you are on your own and will have to find someone willing to work on hearing aids they did not sell which means you will end up paying for every office visit from then on.  This can be as much as $150 per visit or a single fee for lifetime service as much as $1500-2000.  Even a warranty-covered repair requires a licensed dealer to send the hearing aid back to the manufacturer and then refitting once the repaired hearing aid is returned.  That will cost you another office visit.   Hearing aids are best purchased from a local provider who can then provide ongoing service and adjustments for the life of the hearing aid (usually included in the purchase price).  My Hearing Centers offers free unlimited office visits for the life of the hearing aid if purchased from us. 

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Board Certified Hearing Instrument Specialist in Boone

15 June 2017 - 6.69K Views

First, the patient is by passing having a hearing test to decide type of hearing loss and degree.

Second, the patient does not know if what they are buying will work for them. 

Third, you must find someone who will agree to program and set the hearing instruments for your hearing loss.

Fourth, hearing instruments change so often that what you have purchased may not be up to date and usable. 

Fifth and finally, purchasing a hearing instrument online is equal to purchasing a medical device online taking it to the Dr. and asking them to fix you with it. 

We have found in the long run the patient pays more when buying online than if they came to us and we got them the proper hearing instruments the first time. 

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Professional Member

Professional Member

13 June 2017 - 6.73K Views

Hearing aids are a medical device and shouldn't be purchased online for many reasons. Before getting hearing aids you should be tested to know what your hearing loss looks like. Also, hearing aids are custom and need adjusted if you purchase hearing online most often medical professionals are not going to be able to program the hearing aids. It's always best to consult with a professional before making any decisions regarding your medical needs.

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Charles Darby PhD, MA, BC-HIS, BC-HIS

Hearing Healthcare Provider

13 June 2017 - 6.76K Views

Current control of dispensing hearing aids falls under the authority of the FDA. Online sales of this type of device is prohibited. Most manufacturers of hearing aids will not honor warranties for devices purchased online. So if buying online, you are at risk of substantial monetary loss. If your online supplier ceases to exist, you have nowhere to turn and the manufacturer will not assist you.  However, in my opinion, the greater risk, and one that should be of greatest concern, is your hearing health. Without proper testing and evaluation, you can't know why you have a hearing loss. Without this knowledge you could easily mask very serious issues that could put you overall health at risk. Potentially an undiagnosed medical issue that's causing hearing loss could lead to death. Even if there is no medical issue that needs to be addressed, an improperly adjusted hearing aid could actually harm your auditory system, leading to increased hearing loss. One should take the purchase of a hearing device seriously and understand that training in hearing sciences is required to properly treat hearing loss. My advice would be to find a local healthcare provider that can properly treat your loss and is available for follow-up and future adjustments. The old adage of "getting what you pay for" certainly is true in regards to your hearing health. 

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