Should I Purchase My Hearing Aids Online? (AKA Don’t Try This at Home)

In a previous Starkey Hearing blog post I discussed some of the factors that influence the cost of a hearing aid. There’s no getting around the fact that investing in better hearing can be expensive. Given the ubiquitous nature of online shopping, you might be asking yourself if it’s a smart move to bypass the hearing professional and save money by purchasing your hearing aids online. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that all you need to do is put those purchased hearing aids in your ears and your hearing problems will be solved! That’s like buying an orthodontic appliance online and expecting your teeth to straighten out by simply putting it in your mouth.

If you’re considering purchasing hearing aids online, you need to ask yourself a few questions. First, how will you determine which hearing aid is best for you? There are literally tens of thousands of possible combinations of manufacturers, styles, features, and levels of technology to consider. You also have to ask yourself what you are going to do with those hearing aids once they arrive in your mailbox. The many parameters, or settings, of your hearing aids need to be properly adjusted in order for you to achieve the best results in terms of speech understanding and listening comfort. Even if your hearing aids come “pre-programmed” the sound coming out of the device interacts with the unique acoustic properties of your ear. These ear-specific acoustics differ from person to person and even from the right ear to the left ear for the same person. In fact, two people with the same hearing loss, fit with the same hearing aids, programmed to the same settings can experience very different results.

There are additional questions you need to ask yourself: What are you going to do if your hearing aids need to be adjusted or repaired? What if your online hearing aids don’t provide you with the help you were expecting? How will you know if it’s because the hearing aids are not functioning properly, are not appropriate for you, aren’t adjusted properly, or, more importantly, that you require something more than just hearing aids such as assistive technology or auditory training?  

In fact, you won’t be able to answer any of these questions (nor should you be expected to). The management of individuals with hearing loss, which includes the appropriate selection and fitting of today’s complex hearing instruments, requires extensive education and training. Hearing care professionals are required to be licensed in the state in which they practice. Their training and experience is designed to ensure that the treatment plan they propose for you is based on a comprehensive evaluation of your hearing system and your communication needs.

Here’s another question: What should you expect from your hearing care professional that you won’t be able to get through an online purchase? I’ll answer that one:

  1. A patient-focused ‘income’ measure: Hearing professionals have a number of well-validated and researched questionnaires to help determine your unique treatment needs.
  2. Meaningful clinical tests: The majority of patients with hearing loss complain of problems understanding conversations in background noise. Your hearing professional should test your ability to understand speech in noisy backgrounds in addition to other measures of your hearing system.
  3. Patient-specific treatment goals: You and your hearing professional should identify what you want to achieve at the conclusion of treatment. That is, what do you want to be able to do that you can’t do now?
  4. Selection of hearing aid style and features based on the treatment goals: Two patients with the same audiogram (hearing test) can have dramatically different auditory processing abilities, communication requirements, and, consequently, treatment goals.
  5. Verification of hearing aid settings: Your hearing professional should utilize probe microphone measures to ensure that that you can hear those sounds that contribute most to speech understanding while also ensuring that loud sounds are not uncomfortable for you.
  6. Validation of the hearing aid fitting: In the end, the success of your treatment will be determined by the extent to which your expectations and goals have been achieved. You and your hearing care professional should assess this.  
  7. Consideration of hearing assistive technology: Despite your professional’s and your best efforts, one or more of your goals might not have been satisfactorily achieved. Your hearing professional should consider other technology such as remote microphones to achieve those goals.  
  8. Rehabilitation services: You may continue to experience communication problems despite being provided with the latest hearing aid technology fit by expert clinicians. Your hearing professional should provide you with rehabilitation tools that can optimize the benefits of your hearing aids, similar to how physical therapy improves the healing process following knee surgery.

Does your online hearing aid purchase come with these eight additional services? If so, shop away; if not, you may want to think twice about purchasing your hearing aids online. 

Contact a hearing professional

By Harvey Abrams, Ph.D.