Bulk toilet paper and hearing aids: Big box store healthcare?

by Dr. Clint Keifer, FLT Columnist

Recently, I was asked my opinion on purchasing hearing aids from “big box store” wholesalers. Having started out as a hearing aid dealer before dedicating my career (and doctoral degree) to the prevention and rehabilitation of ear and hearing disorders, I certainly have insight to give on the subject. Here are a few important points that need be considered before going the big box store (BBS) route:

  1. Shopping for a product does not equal quality healthcare – There is a significant flaw in the notion that solely purchasing a product to address a hearing disorder is the answer. Yes, hearing aids are often recommended as part of an audiologic treatment plan, but success greatly depends on proper, individualized selection of medical hearing devices and the audiologic/rehabilitative process.
  2. Hearing aid apples and oranges – Hearing aids sold through BBSs are typically stripped down versions of current hearing aid technology. They are often operating on old generation computer chips and have fewer features. A “premium” BBS hearing aid may be more similar to low- or mid-level technology from two years ago. Not that this is bad technology, but this makes price differences look much greater than they are. Besides, good audiology offices offer a full complement of device options to work with any budget (yes, competitive with discount chains).
  3. What you think you are saving now may cost you more later – Without audiological evaluation and management of hearing disorders, individuals are at risk of missed diagnoses and missed opportunity to possibly slow progression/damage. In addition, when generic fitting of hearing aids from a salesperson give poor benefit, devices either end up in a drawer or require additional professional and/or device costs to correct problems. Further, many devices purchased through retail chains do not have “open” software capability which prevents programming at other offices. People are often quite upset after learning their expensive equipment cannot be readjusted by an audiologist.

The hearing device industry can be a confusing and unforgiving place where manufacturers and resellers push product and discounts down your throat. If you can look past the advertising and hype to find a skilled and compassionate audiology doctor to care for your needs, you will have a much happier and healthier life!

Dr. Clint Keifer is the owner of Great Lakes Audiology in Toledo. You can contact him at 419-327-2273; email at ckeifer@glaudiology.com; or visit http://www.GLAudiology.com.