4 Things to Consider before Buying Hearing Aids from a Big Box Store
You’re almost finished with your monthly trip to Costco, making one more run-through for a twelve-pack of paper towels and a jumbo bag of trail mix, when a sign for the Costco Hearing Aid Center catches your eye. Your loved ones have been urging you to consider hearing aids, but you haven’t had the time to set up an appointment with an audiologist. You see that the center offers a free hearing test. Should you take care of it right here, right now, at this mecca of one-stop shopping?
You can—and many people do. Costco is in fact the largest seller of hearing aids in the United States after the Veterans Administration, and many other superstores are getting into the game too. Because chain stores buy hearing aids in bulk, they are able to offer their shoppers substantial discounts on these devices, with the same kind of cost cutting that has made them go-to places for household staples like maple syrup and olive oil. What’s more, the brands of hearing aids big-box stores sell are typically of high quality, even the lower-priced store brands. Seems like a no-brainer, right?
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, passed in 2017, allowed individuals to purchase FDA-approved hearing aids over the counter, but it didn’t mandate the level of testing and follow-up care that creates an optimal care solution. Hearing loss is a complex problem, and hearing aids are complicated computerized devices. Here are three key reasons why you shouldn’t get treated for your hearing problem in the same place where you stock up on kitty litter.
- You need to be evaluated by a Doctor of Audiology. Hearing loss is a medical condition that requires professional care. Only audiologists have the expertise to effectively evaluate your hearing loss. Although Hearing Aid Centers in some big-box stores have audiologists on staff, their free test only evaluates whether or not hearing aids might improve your hearing, not the cause of your hearing problem. Other stores may be staffed entirely by licensed hearing aid dispensers, who have extremely limited training. In either case, you will not receive the comprehensive “Real Ear” testing that will reveal the root of the problem and let you know which device will work best for you. Being matched with the wrong hearing aids is not only frustrating—it can actually degrade your hearing as time goes on.
- You need access to a range of hearing aids and features. When you buy hearing aids from a superstore, you are choosing from a limited range of devices, some of which have had features disabled because they are infrequently used. More concerning, at the point of purchase, the hearing aids are often “locked,” meaning that only the store where you purchased them can service them going forward. If you move far from that particular store or decide that you need the expertise of an audiologist after all, you will have to purchase a new set of expensive hearing aids. Audiologist clinics, on the other hand, offer a wide range of products and tailor them to you with any features you may need.
- Hearing aids require expert fitting. Although some customers can benefit from off-the-shelf hearing aids, most need a custom fit to achieve optimum use. These are extremely complex micro-computer devices that must be fine-tuned to fit each patient. Since hearing aids have hundreds of settings that must be correctly programmed to address each patient’s specific condition and social needs, the fitting process can be extremely time consuming. Big-box stores are simply not cut out to handle this time- and labor-intensive process.
- A long-term relationship with the same healthcare professional is key to success. When you work with an audiologist, you develop a connection with a single individual who tracks your hearing over time and looks at your health holistically. Audiologists work closely with ear, nose, and throat doctors to understand the cause of your hearing loss and calibrate the best solution for your unique problem. Although big-box stores usually offer free follow-up visits to adjust hearing aids, there is little guarantee that you will be able to work with the same person over time, or that they will have the same level of training. Hearing loss can be frustrating, and the continuity of working with the same trusted individual can go a long way toward helping you feel positive about your treatment.