Over the Counter Hearing Aids

NPR covered over-the-counter hearing aids back in 2017. Since then, politicians have passed legislation that provides access to these new amplifiers. NPR, like the politicians, dismissed the audiology profession without talking to an unbiased expert in the field – not a doctor and not someone who sells hearing aids. Ruth Bentler at University of Iowa would have been a good choice. Todd Rickets at Vanterbilt would have been another.

The only way I’ve thought of to concisely explain what audiologists do is to compare them to orthodontists. You might ask why a bunch of wires cost $6,000. They’re just wires. It’s because they don’t help much if you don’t have an expert, with 6-8 years of education, custom fit them and fine tune them over time. Audiologists require at least 8 years of education.

I’m glad these amplifiers are out there, but they’re only appropriate for a limited group of people. I tell patients to try it out, but keep your receipt. I guess you could compare them to something like Invisalign knockoffs that you get on Amazon or at the drug store. They’ll work for a few people with slightly crooked teeth.

One last thing. The NPR podcast inferred that you have to spend $5000 on a pair of hearing aids. The $5000 ones can have a lot of benefits, but the quality of the fitting is at least as important as which hearing aid you get.

What really needs to happen is for legislators to come up with policies that help enforce competence and ethics. There are problems with both of those in this field. How you legislate something like that, I don’t know. That’s their expertise.