When people first realize that they have hearing loss, they often start on an emotional roller coaster. Understanding that hearing aids will help them live a happier, more fulfilled life might make them excited and hopeful, but as they research the options, there can be a bit of sticker shock. The average mid-line hearing aids from a private hearing healthcare provider can cost between $2,000 and $3,400.
But price isn’t the only factor to consider when you seek to improve your life and relationships through better hearing. In this article, we take a deeper look at why hearing aids from a private provider are a safe and smart investment in your own happiness and well-being.
What goes into the cost of making a hearing aid?
Some online critics suggest that a hearing aid shouldn’t be more expensive than a laptop computer. After all, both contain the parts and technology to process information, but hearing aids are much smaller. However, this objection is quite misleading; the technology within hearing aids is both sophisticated and subject to constant improvement.
A good chunk of the cost involved in manufacturing hearing aids consists of research and development (R&D). Hearing aid manufacturers spend millions of dollars and countless man-hours making their devices suit people’s hearing needs more comfortably and effectively. It’s thanks to research like this that today’s hearing aids are digital and have features like directional microphones, which focus on sounds aimed directly at the wearer. R&D brought about tinnitus therapy, water-resistant materials, and automatic programming. More tech-focused hearing aids can even be connected to your television or smartphone.
We expect a lot of hearing aids. We want to put them in and immediately be able to hear as close to normally as possible. First, we ask them to literally recreate a function of the brain; perfect hearing allows your ears to communicate with your brain in such a way that you have a sort of auditory “depth perception” and can tell exactly where a sound came from. Hearing aid manufacturers are always working to improve technology to the point where hearing aids can give you this “depth perception” as well. We expect all of this from teeny tiny parts, and we expect them to be powered by a teeny tiny battery for days in a row.
While the cost of R&D is hefty and adds to the price of the final product, it benefits everyone in the long run. Without it, hearing aids would still be simple amplifiers, unable to come so close to a true hearing experience.
It’s also worth noting that computers are high-tech, high-volume products, while hearing aids are high-tech, low-volume products. 89.5 million computers were sold in 2014, while only 3 million hearing aids were sold. Consider this: if these numbers represented seconds instead of products, we’d be comparing 2 years and 10 months (computers) to only 5 weeks (hearing aids). That’s a significant difference! The manufacturing and R&D costs associated with computers can be spread out over a lot more units than the costs for hearing aids can.
Consider this as well: computers are mass-produced for the same basic use by everyone. There are some customization options when buying a computer (memory, screen size, etc.), but rarely is a computer completely customized for the user’s lifestyle. If it were, it would be vastly more expensive. In order to be effective, hearing aids must be specially fitted and programmed for each individual user according to needs and lifestyle in order to account for different sound environments.
Why go through a private hearing healthcare provider?
Audiologists and other hearing healthcare professionals have to cover a lot of different costs with the selling price of hearing aids. First and foremost, they pay to purchase the hearing aids from the manufacturer. Then they also incur overhead, which includes things like rent, training, personnel salaries, marketing, and the purchases of high-cost hearing testing machinery that must be replaced every few years.
Yet the most important offerings hearing health professionals include in the price of hearing aids are those of additional services and customization. More often than not, your hearing aids will come with free cleanings, adjustments, and sometimes even hearing health checkups for the hearing aids’ entire life span.
Imagine you were going to buy a car, house, television, or any other valuable product. Isn’t it worth a little more money to be sure that you’re getting something that fits your needs exactly? Something that comes with years of reassurance that it will continue to be the best product you could have purchased?
But going beyond free services down the road, the initial process of choosing and customizing hearing aids for each patient is not quick or straightforward. There are three big factors to consider when diagnosing and treating hearing loss: your type of hearing loss (sensorineural, noise-induced, etc.), your depth and range of hearing loss, and your lifestyle. Your professional has to weigh all these factors in order to find the solution that will work best for you. This is where the saying “you get what you pay for” comes into play.
Your professional will go over all the products available and help you find one that’s best matched with your hearing needs. Some hearing aid styles even require them to build a unique mold of your ear. Once the devices arrive, your professional will adjust your hearing aids to target your unique hearing loss and walk you through how to take care of them. Next, they’ll help you through a rehabilitation process to adjust to life with your new devices.
This rehabilitation process is crucial. When you have untreated hearing loss, your brain becomes accustomed to that loss. Using hearing aids for the first time can therefore be a bit of a shock to your auditory system, and many people experience fatigue and frustration during their first few weeks of use before fully experiencing the huge benefits and changes to their lives.
When you first get your devices, your professional will likely program them to a lower volume than full hearing ability would give you. Once your brain adjusts to that volume, you’ll return to the office to have it raised a bit higher. This process continues until your hearing aids are fully compensating for your specific hearing loss, and the length of that process is different for everyone.
What’s more, your professional is in a unique position to understand exactly what you’re going through, and they’ll be there for your entire journey from untreated hearing loss to successful use of hearing aids. You may have supportive loved ones, but unless they have a hearing loss of their own, it might be hard to make them understand the sensations and emotions that come with that journey. Your provider will understand, and they’ll be there to help.
This relationship carries forward beyond the fitting and rehabilitation process, and such a level of service and dedication adds an enormous amount of value on its own. Every time you return to the practice, whether that be for adjustments, cleanings, or annual hearing screenings, the professional taking care of you will remember you and get a deeper understanding of your hearing needs. They’ll be invested in your health and happiness. They’ll be on your team.
Having your hearing assessed by a private provider and allowing them to order, fit, and program your hearing aids is not only going to make you more satisfied with your devices and more engaged in the world around you. It’s also a smart and responsible investment that you can feel sure about, because that investment will be high quality, protected, and built to give you everything you need.
What about big-box discount retailers or buying hearing aids online?
If you do some research and browse hearing aid review forums online, you will see the same sentiment echoed from above: you get what you pay for.
Countless hearing aid users will tell you that the success or failure of a hearing aid rests on the shoulders of the professional who fits it. They say that the worst hearing aid in the world will do more for the patient when it’s fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing than the best hearing aid will do when fitted by someone who does not.
It varies state by state, but most professionals are required to have at least a master’s degree in order to obtain a hearing aid dispensing license. Audiologists require a doctoral degree (Au.D.). On the other hand, mail-order, online, and big-box retailers are sometimes staffed by sales people who don’t have much training on the medical aspects of hearing healthcare. They probably don’t understand what you experience during the journey, and it’s not their job to be your team member or guide. Some of these discount hearing aids may also be made with lower-quality components.
What’s more, hearing aids from these retailers are not likely to include many instructions or adjustments. If you order the hearing aids online or through the mail, you often have to mail them back for any adjustments that you need made. You won’t be able to give the person making the adjustments real-time feedback about whether the adjustment seems better or worse. Also, postage and re-adjustment costs can add up. Over the life span of the hearing aids, it’s entirely possible for you to end up spending more money with these retail options than you would have with a private provider.
If someone is unsatisfied with the way their hearing aids work for them, it often happens that they just stop using them and continue to let their hearing loss go unaddressed. It’s also been suggested that many people who purchase hearing aids from a discount channel end up switching and make their second hearing aid purchase from a private provider. It seems that the potential struggles that are more likely to come from a big box or online retailer are many times not worth the discount.
When considering the options for a major purchase, it’s understandable to want to balance luxury and practicality. The fact of the matter is that with hearing aids, the option that will make you happiest and suit your hearing needs best is also the option that’s smart and responsible.
If you were buying a car, would you want to go through a salesman whom you know and trust or a salesman who’s just there to sell cars for the company? It’s the same for hearing aids. You’ll feel better about an investment when you know that the person who helped you purchase was on your side.
Do yourself a favor: invest in the attention and expertise of a qualified and patient-focused hearing healthcare professional.