What your patients need to know about a new law aimed at those with hearing loss

A new law aims to make hearing aids cheaper and more widely used by making them available over-the-counter without a prescription or a doctor’s involvement. Is this good news for the estimated 48 million people who suffer from hearing loss? Or is this yet another example of marketing prevailing over medicine, similar to how online eyewear retailers are stepping on eye doctors’ toes? Read on to find out myths and facts about hearing loss and OTC hearing aids so you can better educate your patients on this topic.

Myth: Hearing loss is not that serious

The fact is, while it used to be considered a frustrating but harmless condition affecting mostly older people, hearing loss has now been linked to serious health risks including falls, depression, and dementia. Make sure your patients understand the severity of hearing loss by showing them easy-to-understand informational videos, like this one:

 

You might also consider playing patient education videos like “Early Hearing Loss” in your waiting room to help motivate patients to schedule regular hearing exams:

 

Myth: People who need hearing aids will get them from their doctor

It’s a troubling fact that while hearing aids have the potential to change the lives of the 27 million Americans age 50 and older who suffer from hearing loss, only one in seven uses a hearing aid, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The reasons for this are many: the belief that their hearing is “not that bad,” fear that wearing a hearing aid will make them “look old,” and the misconception that hearing aids are difficult to use are a few.

Cost is also a common issue. Many patients don’t know that Medicare does not cover hearing aids, nor do most private health insurers. As a result, 61 percent of patients foot the bill themselves, with an average cost of $1,675 per ear for equipment, fittings, and evaluations, according to Hopkins. A recent Consumer Reports survey put the price tag at $2,710, on average.

Myth: Over-the-counter hearing aids are already available

It is true that consumers have long been able to buy personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) over the counter, which are somewhat similar to hearing aids but regulated differently, noted MarketWatch. However, “PSAPs work to amplify environmental sounds and aren’t supposed to be used as hearing aids, according to the FDA, while hearing aids help with impaired hearing.” PSAPs can’t legally be marketed to people with hearing loss.

Under the new law, the FDA must create a new category for OTC hearing aids, and set safety and effectiveness standards for the devices. These hearing aids can be sold online, at pharmacies and stores, or by mail order. Nonprescription hearing aids might cost as little as $500, reports the AARP.

Myth: Over-the-counter hearing aids are a suitable option for all hearing loss sufferers

OTC hearing aids have lots of advocates, including the AARP, the Hearing Loss Association of America, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who sponsored the legislation. However, these devices are specifically intended for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss, not those with more severe cases.

Of course, only a trained medical professional can determine the severity of a patient’s hearing loss. And selecting and fitting the right hearing aid to an individual’s ear anatomy and lifestyle requires professional expertise as well, noted Brandon Sawalich, president of Starkey Hearing Technologies and chairman of the Hearing Industries Association, in an op-ed in The Hill. “A hearing aid fitting is one-third product and two-thirds process,” he wrote.

It’s worth noting that “among those currently using quality hearing instruments selected, fitted, and maintained by qualified hearing professionals, audiologists or hearing instrument specialists, there is a 91 percent satisfaction rate,” he added.

For a related post, read How Eye Doctors Can Help Patients With Hearing Loss

In conclusion

The message to patients should be that as a trusted medical professional, you are looking out for their overall health and wellbeing. You are not just there to treat symptoms and sell products.

By taking the time to listen to patients and educate them, you will show them that there are some things a doctor can provide that over-the-counter products can’t. Sharing videos on your website and social media pages such as “Hearing Aids: Overview” or “What to Expect at a Hearing Test” is an easy and powerful way to educate prospective and current patients.

From hearing aids to ear tubes to otosclerosis, Rendia’s comprehensive video library contains relevant videos to help your patients understand their hearing health. Visit the audiology section of our website to find out more.


“Hearing loss is a medical issue, not a consumer electronics opportunity,” wrote Sawalich. Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment below.