Directors of online hearing aid sales company Wholesale Hearing, found to be in breach of BSHAA Code of Practice
An announcement was made by the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists today in relation to a disciplinary investigation taken into the directors of an online hearing aid sales company. They were found to have breached the high standards of care expected by members of the society. What does that mean for online sales of hearing aids in the UK? Let's take a look at the announcement and the wider sphere of online sales of hearing aids.
In essence, BSHAA has not come out directly against a changing business model, and we don't necessarily see this a protective act. In fact, the findings of the disciplinary panel are such that they support all forms of innovation in business model once, the customer is delivered the proper care, advice and attention.
The lads involved here were innovative in their approach, they looked at a disruptive model and thought they could deliver it. I applaud them for that, however, and unfortunately, the model doesn't deliver the care and attention needed or demanded. That doesn't mean they won't or can't come up with a model that does.
Online Hearing Aid Sales
At Hearing Aid Know, we pretty much hold the same outlook, we don't think online sales are an issue if they are in fact delivered properly. How that model would work and what it would look like would take some real thought. As a clinical professional I would have to consider carefully how I could be a part of that type of model.
In essence, and I have said it before on these pages, the current hearing solutions are not manufactured with remote sales and aftercare in mind. While that is changing and may well change completely, the ability to deliver to you the best hearing aids while never actually seeing you is just not there.
While Wholesale Hearing had some involvement from Audiologists in the field, that involvement was after the hearing aids were purchased as opposed to before. This is in fact where the problem really lies, how can we give you good advice after the fact?
New Hearing Aid Sales Models
I have no doubt that new hearing aid sales models will appear. That we as a Profession will change and adapt to them. However, for any of us to become involved with them, the professional standards expected from us will have to be met. The announcement is as follows:
BSHAA Code of Practice breached by company directors
A BSHAA investigation and disciplinary hearing has found that two company directors breached the high standards of care set out in the Society’s Code of Practice that all members agree to as a condition of their membership.
Two of Wholesale Hearing Limited’s directors – Chris Stone and Callum Jackson, both HCPC-registered – were members of BSHAA when the company was established in March this year. A third director, who is also HCPC-registered, is not affected by this ruling as he was no longer a BSHAA member when Wholesale Hearing Limited was founded.
Wholesale Hearing Limited enables consumers to purchase hearing aids online without the support of a qualified audiologist for their assessment, prescribing, fitting and aftercare, all essential elements to achieving the full benefits of hearing technology.
BSHAA responded to concerns about the company’s trading practices and promptly begun an investigation. The initial review established that there was a case to be answered under the Code of Practice, and the two members were invited to a disciplinary hearing. Both resigned their membership rather than attend the hearing.
To help the Society continue providing professional leadership to its members in a fast-changing world, the hearing proceeded in their absence, giving careful consideration to the available evidence. It concluded that their actions constituted a breach of the Code, which would have led to their expulsion had they not pre-empted this by resigning.
BSHAA’s investigation and disciplinary panel found that the business model employed by the directors does not have sufficient safeguards in place to ensure that they:
- are consistently following the highest standards in the practice and application of hearing aid audiology as expected by BSHAA;
- have made adequate provisions always to discharge their responsibilities to the client, as set out in BSHAA Code of Practice;
- have fulfilled their responsibility to the profession of hearing aid audiology, as set out in the Code of Practice;
- have fully satisfied the expectations of the Advertising Code detailed in the Code of Practice.
The panel also considered that the trading practices risk bringing the profession of audiology into disrepute. BSHAA has now referred its findings to the regulator under the Fitness to Practice review process to determine whether their actions are also in breach of their clinical registration.
Following this review of clinical practice in audiology, and as it seeks to respond to new technology and growing demands, BSHAA has re-emphasised the imperative that practising audiologists should at all times offer professional guidance to their clients which will enable them to:
- make fully informed decisions about their hearing care needs;
- understand the full implications of their choice of purchase;
- appreciate the importance of seeking professional support to benefit fully from their purchase;
- recognise the value of rehabilitation and the advantage to be gained from professional aftercare.
BSHAA Chief Executive Prof David Welbourn said: “BSHAA represents the profession of hearing care and is responsible for upholding high standards of practice and customer care in the private sector. Any potential breach of the Code of Practice will always be investigated and if we determine that there is a case to be answered, we will follow our disciplinary process, which is both fair and objective.
“We will always welcome innovation and potential disruption that improves availability of high quality hearing care, but not where this threatens to compromise the safety or clinical effectiveness of the intervention, as we found in this instance.
“High standards of care can be maintained within a business model that supports online sales, provided there is adequate transparency and that clients are given clear, unbiased evidence in relation to potential saving benefits, helpful advice about the important role of consulting a local audiologist, and that a formal professional relationship exists between that audiologist and the sales team, including clear arrangements for ongoing service.”
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