The Hidden Dangers of Purchasing Hearing Aids Off the Internet
At first glance, the idea of buying hearing aids online off the Internet may seem like a good one, whether its from a website like eBay or an online retailer, especially when they appear to be low cost or budget hearing aids. But unfortunately it’s based on a number of important misunderstandings that the online retailer will conveniently neglect to tell you about.
So read this first, to you understand how to avoid falling into the same trap others have.
1. Hearing Aids are not a ‘white good’…
People often mistakenly think that a hearing aid is much like a television, or a computer, or a HiFi, and so they expose it to the normal ways they would expect to go about purchasing these types of goods: shop around, compare features and prices etc. But hearing aids are not white goods. They’re MEDICAL devices.
Hearing aids therefore need to be correctly PRESCRIBED and FITTED by someone who is trained and qualified to do so. If you are not fitted with the correct one for your hearing and hearing requirements – at best, it will be ineffective; at worse, it could actually damage your hearing.
2. Hearing Aids need programming…
When you get a hearing aid, it is a bit like a blank slate that needs to be programmed to your hearing and hearing requirements. This requires specialist equipment, software from the manufacturer and someone who knows how to use it properly.
If you purchase off the Internet, how will you be able to use it if it hasn’t been programmed? Bearing in mind that programming is a two way process, part of which involves listening to you and making adjustments accordingly.
3. Internet retailers of hearing aids are not regulated…
In the UK there are various bodies that regulate the sale of hearing aids. The most important one is the Hearing Aid Council, which is the Government’s regulatory body for the private sale of hearing aids. The Hearing Aid Council specify who may ‘dispense’ hearing aids privately, and how they must do it – in order to protect the consumer.
Unfortunately their powers do not apply to Internet Sales. Therefore they cannot protect you, and the Internet retailer has no responsibility to adhere to the Hearing Aid Council’s standards of ethics and competence. You may be protected by Trading Standards and the Office of Fair Trading, but if the Internet Retailer correctly described it and it’s technically fit for purpose you may find you don’t have the comeback you need to get the best out of your hearing.
Purchasing face-to-face from someone who’s registered with the Hearing Aid Council means that at the very least, you will be dealing with someone who has a legal responsibility to prescribe and fit the item that’s right for you (or the person you are purchasing it for), with a Regulator you can turn to in the rare case you’ll need to.
4. The hearing aid manufacturer works closely with the professional…
Hearing aid manufacturers work closely with hearing care professionals to ensure they properly understand the product they are prescribing and fitting. Purchasing from an online retailer loses this important partnership which plays a key role in as successful fitting.
5. The Online Cost does not include professional time and ongoing support…
Have you never wondered why the cost is so different online from what professional practices will quote? It’s because the price from a professional practice will include the costs of having a qualified person fit the hearing aid, monitor your progress and provide you with ongoing support.
Imagine someone telling you they thought they needed a filling, and went online to look for the ‘best value’ filling they could find. It just wouldn’t happen.
But imagine it arrived in the post… they’d still need someone to fit it. And then they’d end up having to pay the dentist’s fees – assuming they could convince them to fit it!
With hearing aids, the cost includes the hearing aids, the cost of fitting it and very often the ongoing support too. So it can be thought of as a complete solution. This means that if something changes (e.g. wax gets in and blocks the electronics, or your hearing changes) your hearing care professional will be able to provide you with the proper support you need when you need it. That may involve reprogramming, or servicing/repair, or advice, or maybe even referral to an appropriate medical practitioner.
6. And you may not find anyone to programme it…
Most hearing care professionals are reluctant to touch a hearing aid that they have not supplied themselves. This is for two main reasons.
Firstly, the success of a hearing aid fitting depends on the combination of having the right technology and the right professional support. Fitting something they have not prescribed invites all sorts of problems, and it will leave you uncertain as to whether it’s the technology or the professional. This is something that most professionals are unwilling to risk, as it obviously affects their professional reputation.
Secondly, hearing care professionals rarely have fee structures broken down into separate appointments that would allow them to carry out aftercare for something they have not provided themselves. The reason for this is very simple: often adjustments are made by the hearing care professional as part of an incremental process that involves you seeing how they perform for you out in the real world, followed by another adjustment, followed by trying them out again, followed by another adjustment etc.
So the number of appointments you need can easily stack up, and that’s not including any ongoing maintenance you’ll need over the longer term. If you were to be charged for each and every appointment, you may find it easier to simply to ‘put up with’ the settings, rather than complete the necessary adjustment process. Worse still, you may stop using the hearing aids altogether.
This is why the profession has generally found that providing a price that includes the ‘hardware’ and the ‘software’ (professional time and support) has suited both patients and professionals alike: everyone knows where they stand.
If you are considering purchasing hearing aids online, our advice is DON’T.
Find a local practice you know will look after you (or the person you are purchasing them for). Their training, knowledge, experience and understanding of your hearing and your needs will provide you with a tailored solution that’s right for, with the added protection of being within the context of a properly regulated profession.
If you already have purchased online, speak to Trading Standards for advice. And if you feel that your experience would help protect other consumers from falling into the same trap, why not consider posting in our forums?