How to Find a Good Audiologist
If you’re having difficulty with your hearing or balance, the best way to find out what’s going on is an evaluation by an audiologist.
An audiologist is a clinician who provides evaluation and treatment of hearing and balance disorders including vertigo, tinnitus and sensitivity to sounds. They are trained to work with patients of all ages and have specific training and expertise in solutions including hearing aids, cochlear implants and balance (vestibular) rehabilitation.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are about 13,300 audiologists in America. Finding a good audiologist, however, can be a bit of a challenge. Luckily, we’ve got some insights that can make your search easier.
First, let’s take a look at what an audiologist does.
What credentials does an audiologist hold?
Audiologists who began their clinical practice after 2012 were required to earn a clinical doctorate called the Doctor of Audiology (AuD). Prior to that, the entry level for audiology was a Masters degree, so there are still some audiologists who have been “grandfathered in”, practicing with that credential. Audiologists may also have other earned doctoral degrees such as the Doctor of Science (ScD), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Education (EdD).
In addition to a degree, audiologists must be licensed in the state or commonwealth where they practice. Additional voluntary general and specialty certifications may be earned from the American Academy of Audiology or the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, but these are not required to practice, nor do they necessarily indicate that the holder is a superior practitioner. Holders of both state licenses and voluntary certifications are required to complete regular continuing education in order to maintain their credentials.
How do audiologists differ from other hearing professionals like hearing instrument specialists and ENTs?
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, an otolaryngologist (more commonly known as an ear, nose, and throat [ENT] doctor) is a physician with an expertise in conditions of the ear, nose, and throat. However, their specialty also extends to other parts of the head and neck, including the sinuses and thyroid and conditions such as allergies and sleep apnea.
ENTs earn a doctor of medicine degree after getting their bachelor’s degree. Medical school is followed by a five-year residency.
ENTs who further specialize in ears are called otologists or neurotologists. These specialists complete additional training to treat more complex ear conditions and more complex ear surgeries. For instance, an otologist performs the surgical placement of the internal component of a cochlear implant.
A hearing instrument specialist or hearing aid dispenser is licensed by the state to assess hearing loss in adults and fit hearing aids. They can make ear-mold impressions, sell, fit and program hearing aids, but they cannot diagnose hearing loss and they cannot diagnose or treat issues like auditory processing disorders, tinnitus, hyperacusis, or other auditory cognitive processing issues.
When should I visit an audiologist?
An audiologist should be consulted if you experience any of the following:
- Frequently asking others to repeat what they say
- Feel like others aren’t speaking clearly
- Having a hard time hearing or understanding information in loud settings
- Turning up the volume on the radio, television or other device
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
If the results of that evaluation suggest medical treatment is needed, the audiologist will refer you to an ENT.
Sarah Chandler, AuD, an audiologist from Missouri, said people often think they only need to get their hearing checked if they’re struggling. But a baseline test can detect changes due to other diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and effects of chemotherapy and radiation, she told HearingTracker.
“If we don't know how you used to hear, and there is a range of normal hearing, it's difficult to say if your hearing is changing,” Chandler said.
“Many people don't realize their hearing is changing when it happens over the course of several months or a few years. A hearing test from even five years ago would be a great help in those cases,” she explained.
“The best initial course of action for any patient with hearing loss is to visit an audiologist,” noted Cheryl K. Glovsky, AuD, a senior audiologist at Mass Eye and Ear in Boston. “A hearing test is almost always covered by insurance and results obtained will provide the best insight into appropriate intervention.”
Where do audiologists work?
Audiologists can work in a number of settings. You’ll find audiologists at any of the following places:
- ENT clinics
- Independent audiology clinics
- VA hearing clinics
- Colleges and universities
- K-12 schools
- Government settings
- Military bases
- Retail chains
- Hearing aid or cochlear implant manufacturers
How to find the best audiologist for you
There are many ways to find the right audiologist. HearingTracker offers a convenient, free service to help you find a great audiologist. The provider search allows you to filter nearby providers by critical services like real-ear measurements and speech-in-noise testing, to find audiologists who go above and beyond to ensure you receive a great outcome.
Another place to find audiologists is to use the American Academy of Audiology directory, which lists members of that organization. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) also has a search tool on its website that contains audiologists. “Dr Cliff AuD”, a popular YouTube personality, also provides a database of vetted (by Dr Cliff) on his website.
The Hearing Loss Association of America, a consumer advocacy organization, can connect you not only to members who are audiology providers, but also local chapters where you can ask people with hearing loss in your community for recommendations of audiologists in your area.
University training programs in audiology and communication disorders generally have on-campus clinics. These training programs use students for some of the hands-on work, but they are always directly supervised by licensed audiologists, many of whom are also involved in state-of-the-art research on hearing loss an treatment. To find a program near you, download the list of CCC accredited programs.
Quick tips to find a great audiologist:
- Check online reviews - Most audiologists now have an online presence and reviews from current and previous clients. As with any online reviews, read them with a critical eye to ensure they represent a broad sample and that there are some from people who appear to have similar needs and experience to you.
- Check with local HLAA chapter members - See if there are folks in your area on their “must have” list.
- Ask your primary care provider for a referral - Savvy audiologists market not only to potential customers, but also to the physicians in their area. Your physician, nurse practitioner or physicians assistant may have referred others to a local audiologist who delivered good results for their patient. This referral also ensures that your insurance will cover most of the cost of the visit.
- Call your insurance company - Call the number on the back of your ID card and ask “what is my hearing aid and audiology benefit?” Even if you think you don’t need hearing aids, it’s good to know what your “out of pocket” will be before you make any appointments.
- Find flexibility - Ask about office hours, other locations and the availability of telehealth for follow up visits.
- Ask about their COVID-19 protocols - And be sure you have all required documentation and PPE to avoid wasting a trip.
- Find the right specialist - If you need specialty care such as pediatrics, vertigo or tinnitus, be sure to ask if that provider has expertise in these sub-specialties of audiology. HearingTracker’s provider map allows you to filter providers based on their specialties and the services they provide.
What happens during an audiology appointment?
Every person’s appointment will be slightly different, but generally, the audiologist should perform a detailed case history, look in your ears with an otoscope, perform tympanometry, and check your hearing sensitivity for tones and speech (both in quiet and in noise).
After all the tests are complete the audiologist should review the results with you including how each of the test results relates to the challenges you reported during your case history. The severity and type of hearing loss should be detailed and explained. They should provide an opportunity for you to ask any questions or gain clarification. They should then indicate if further testing a referral to a medical professional or treatment is indicated. Be sure to ask as many questions as you need to to feel that you fully understand your hearing, and the treatment options.
They will most likely create a formal report which may take a day or two. Be sure to ask for a copy for yourself as well as for one to be sent to your referring physician. That report should include all the results of the test above as well as interpretations and recommendations.
What if I need hearing aids?
If the results indicate that you should purchase hearing aids, some good questions to ask are:
- Do you perform real ear measurements, outcome measures and aided speech testing in noise for hearing aid verification?
- Do you work with multiple hearing aid manufacturers?
- What is your approach to assessing each patient’s individual needs?
- How accessible are you by phone or email if I have questions or if a problem arises?
- How fast can I get an appointment if I am having difficulty with my hearing or hearing aids?
- What types of telehealth options do you offer?
- Are your hearing aid prices bundled, or unbundled? Bundled pricing includes all fitting and follow up services and supplies in a larger up-front cost. The term of the “included” service should be clearly stated on the sale contract. Unbundled pricing separates out the devices from the services which are itemized.
- What styles of hearing aids are available?
- What are the terms and conditions of the sale regarding returns, exchanges and upgrades?
- What are the available warranty options?
- Is financing available?
- What is the follow-up schedule like?
- Are other devices besides hearing aids an option?
- Is rehabilitation needed after getting hearing aids?
- How soon after a diagnosis of hearing loss are hearing aids required?
If at any point, you feel you’d like more information, feel free to ask for resources, or references to further your understanding of your hearing and the proposed treatment options.