What's The Deal With OTC Hearing Aids?


As we get older, we unlock more of life’s experiences. At 16, you can get your license and hit the open road. At 21, you can legally patron bars and consume alcoholic beverages. For now, you can start collecting Social Security at age 62. And right around the same time, you become a much-desired target for anyone selling hearing aids.

A little background

Last August, the Food and Drug Administration Reauthorization Act of 2017 was signed into law by President Donald Trump. Within this act is legislation that includes the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act, which was created to provide the public with more accessible and affordable hearing aid options.

Ever since, the audiological community has been split on what the impact of this legislation will be. A recent Hearing Journal survey on the topic revealed that 27.2 percent of respondents expect no impact, 10.1 percent expect a major impact, and a whopping 62.7 percent expect a minor impact. While there is a ton of speculation, we won’t know what the outcomes will be for certain until OTC hearing aids become readily available in 2020.

There is no substitute available on any shelf for quality and personalized care

OTC hearing aids will do their job to amplify sound; there’s no doubt about that. However, no two ear lobes or ear canals are exactly the same. So while it may be cheaper and more convenient to purchase an OTC hearing aid, chances are the outcome won’t be as positive as that from a custom fit and programmed device.

In fact, a recent study from Indiana University proved this. Over the course of six weeks, researchers compared outcomes among three groups of patients: One that received a hearing aid that included the services of an audiologist; one that received an OTC hearing aid; and one that received a placebo hearing aid that didn’t amplify sound at all. There were 154 subjects in total, ages 55 to 79, all with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Findings revealed that people in both the audiologist and OTC groups were helped by their hearing aids. However, people in the OTC group were less satisfied with their outcomes. Only 55 percent of people within this group stated they would purchase the hearing aid they wore as opposed to an impressive 81 percent from the audiologist group.

Perhaps the most interesting and encouraging factoid that came from this study is that satisfaction significantly increased for patients in the OTC group whom opted to regularly see an audiologist over a four-week follow-up period. By receiving this additional treatment, more of them chose to purchase their hearing aids.

This shows that while OTC hearing aids could pose a threat to audiologists’ hearing aid sales, they could also help them schedule more appointments with patients whom need help with their OTC devices. Because it will be easier and more affordable to acquire hearing aids, more people may be inclined to wear them. As a result, more people will take greater interest in their hearing health, prompting them to seek out audiological care.

Talking with your patients about their options

Hearing care professionals are tasked with educating patients about their hearing aid options – from basic units to more advanced models. For many people, insurance covers the cost of a hearing exam, but not the cost of hearing aids. This makes the prospect of being able to walk into a store, pick a hearing aid off the shelf, and purchase it at an affordable price more attractive to them. What they may not understand is that, depending on the severity of their hearing impairment, the unit they buy might not sufficiently help them.

This is when education becomes crucial. 2020 will be here before you know it, so you should start talking with your patients and educating them about the pros and cons of OTC hearing aids as soon as possible. Discuss their options with them and explain why it’s beneficial for them to spend the extra cash on a higher-quality device. If that doesn’t strike a chord, stress to them that they should continue to see you after purchasing their OTC hearing aid so you can ensure the device is properly doing its job.

Don’t panic

Every patient who comes to see you is there for a reason – they want proper help and healthy ears. That will never change. Those that need hearing aids will still look to your expertise to help them find a product that will improve their quality of life without breaking their bank.

As long as you earn and keep the trust of your patients by providing them with comfortable surroundings, high-quality treatment, and a kind and friendly demeanor, then there will be nothing to worry about in 2020.