Four different ways to buy a hearing aid
Looking to buy a new hearing aid? They are sold in a few different ways these days, here’s a description of each:
The buy-everything way
This is the most common way that a hearing aid is sold. If you go to a high-street or independent retailer then this is how you will be sold an aid. Basically, you pay one lump-sum for everything: the hearing aid itself, the audiologist’s time, the hearing test, the fitting, the programming and the after care.
Typically the price you will pay will be from $1000 / £600 upwards. This is many times more than the hearing aid itself costs but remember that you are paying for everything here, the service as well. Top of the range aids using cutting edge technology will cost around the $3000 / £2000 mark.
The Self-programmed way
Some companies are selling hearing aids (mostly on the Internet) that allow you to use computer software to programme them yourself.
The idea here is that you either get a hearing test from an audiologist or perform a telephone-based hearing test to assess your hearing loss, send the results of these to the company and they send to you a hearing aid programmed to your hearing loss and computer software so that you can change things about your hearing aid yourself to suit your needs.
Current UK prices are around £600 for an aid and £300 for the programmer. In the US prices tend to be around $600 and up.
The Pre-programmed way
This is probably the cheapest way to buy a hearing aid, but not necessarily the best. This is similar to the self-programmed purchase except that you do not get a programmer. You may in some cases be able to submit your hearing aid test results to get the aid programmed for you, in other cases you will simply buy a hearing aid that is programmed for the most common type of hearing loss.
UK prices start from £99.
The service-led way
One company in the States is taking a unique approach to hearing aid sales. I love this. You pay a one-off fee for the hearing aid, which is sold at or near to the manufacturers price. You then pay for the audiologist’s time as and when you need it. This means you get all of the service that you would get with the buy everything way but you do not have to pay a massive fee up front – you pay for what you need.
The company that is doing this is called Barika.
What’s the best option for buying a hearing aid?
In my opinion, a combination of the service led way and the self-programmed way should be the future of hearing aid sales.
Anyone who has bought, or is looking to buy, a hearing aid knows that they are very expensive. It’s common knowledge that many of the retailers using the buy-everything way sales model are selling hearing aids at many, many times more than the cost to make them. It’s easy to say this is greed and that hearing aids should be cheaper, but the key thing is that when you buy a hearing aid you absolutely need a professional to fit and programme the aids for you in order to get the best performance from them – this is especially true for first-time buyers. I do think that the buy-everything way is too expensive and could be cheaper, but do be aware the the audiologist is key to you hearing properly.
Having said that, visiting the audiologist is a problem for many people, simply because they don’t live nearby or that can’t fit visits around work, etc. That’s why I think the self-programmed way is also very important. People should be able to tinker with their aid’s performance a little bit to get the sound that they want.
The pre-programmed way is important as it helps to get more aids into more people’s ears at an affordable price. It’s important to note though that a £99 pre-programmed aid is not going to work as well as a £2000 one that has been professionally fitted for you. I think, though, that pre-programmed aids will help a lot of people hear more and that’s a great thing. Also, prices for pre-programmed aids do start very low but you can buy higher-end aids pro-programmed too – you get what you pay for.
A combination of the service led way and the self-programmed way would give you everything you need to hear as well as possible: a reasonable price, professional fitting, as much after care as you need and the ability to change your aid as you see fit.