Online shopping has become part of everyday life for many of us, especially since it has become the safest way to shop during the pandemic. Not only can it be convenient, but often we are attracted by seemingly “too good to be true” price deals from online retailers compared to bricks and mortar stores. But how does that work when consuming professional services and products that need to be custom fitted like prescribed hearing aids?
Within a clinical setting, a hearing aid purchase occurs following a thorough diagnostic audiological assessment in soundproof conditions, as well as a lifestyle assessment to make the right choice of device from the thousands of options out there. An initial hearing assessment can take upwards of an hour and involve several tests to look at the function and health of each part of the auditory system. Audiologists are trained to identify various medical conditions that would require specialist treatment, including a cholesteatoma, or acoustic neuroma. If a patient bypasses this part of the process, then there is a risk that any underlying medical concern could go undetected.
Once the right hearing aid is selected, it is then custom fitted and digitally programmed to suit the specific acoustic requirements affected by the physical nature of each individual ear shape. At Victorian Hearing, we routinely use Real Ear Measurement, an in situ, validated and objective evaluation of the precise sound being delivered to each ear to establish the initial hearing aid settings. There are usually some minor adjustments from the initially prescribed settings that are then needed to ensure the sound is comfortable, clear, and a person feels ready to listen to their world through this new filter. Essentially it is a collaborative and very bespoke process, involving the patient and clinical expert to get the best result.
Hearing aids bought online without a thorough hearing test in ideal conditions will be set based upon assumptions, rather than tailored specifics. This means they may not meet a patient’s unique needs, may provide inadequate amplification or could potentially further damage hearing due to over-amplification. A hearing aid is not just a device that makes things a bit louder – it is a complex medical device which must be professionally and precisely programmed using specific computer software. Once fitted by a qualified Audiologist, a few adjustments may be needed over time as it is common for a person to adjust to the amplification and therefore require different settings to be programmed than originally provided. Regular appointments with an audiologist enables fine-tuning of the devices as experience with them grows, provides opportunities to advise on device maintenance, and also enables support with communication skills and tactics to get the most out of the patients hearing ability.
It is important for patients to also consider the after sales aspect of any online purchase, and this includes hearing aids. Devices purchased through an accredited clinic will carry a local warranty. Consumers need to be aware that if a hearing device is purchased online or overseas, there is a risk that an inauthentic or inferior device will be supplied or that the device may not be able to be programmed, adjusted or serviced in Australia. As a result, greater costs may be incurred due to the extra fitting, adjustment and repair costs required and inadequate post-sales support. This will very quickly diminish any initial price advantage, and first-time hearing aid wearers tend to find this out the hard way.
Patients may not be aware of the various funding options for hearing and hearing aids available in Australia. While Medicare only covers hearing tests requested by an Ear Specialist at this point in time, the Australian Government Hearing Services Program provides eligible people with access to a wide range of high quality fully subsidised hearing services and devices. Anyone can check their eligibility for the program by visiting www.hearingservices.gov.au. Audiological services may also be funded by NDIS, Workcover / WorkSafe, or Private Health Funds. It is important for patients to check out these funding options regarding online purchases also, as most funders will require a qualified clinician to be involved in the fitting.
Information is power as they say, and at Victorian Hearing, we want patients to make fully informed choices when it comes to their hearing care. Please get in touch if you would like to find out more or to send in a referral.