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Which? Survey, NHS vs Private High Street Hearing Aid Retailers



Satisfaction With High Street Retailers High, But NHS Not Far Behind

Which surveyed hearing aid users in April 2018 to compare satisfaction rates of people provided services by the NHS and by private High Street retailers such as Boots, Specsavers, Hidden Hearing and Amplifon. The results were interesting, to say the least, and overall; private retailers pipped the NHS generally. The only area that was dramatically different was in the hearing aid questions. People were overall much happier with private hearing aids. The survey raises questions about what consumers are looking for as well, let's take a look. 

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The Survey

Which? surveyed members who have recently got a hearing aid via the NHS or bought hearing aids from a private provider. They asked questions that covered the entire process and asked them to rate their experience. The results reveal that overall satisfaction with hearing aid providers is high among UK consumers, whether they use the NHS or go private. Of 3,183 Which? members surveyed, the total average satisfaction score was 84%.

Which? reported that there was not a significant difference in overall satisfaction between those paying privately (88%) compared with those who got their hearing aids from the NHS (84% ) and those for whom the NHS paid to go privately through the Any Qualified Provider scheme (75% satisfaction score). But I think that is a pretty strong spread and statistically significant. For me, it appears that the NHS and Private providers are similar while the AQP scheme lags significantly behind. As I said, the most significant differences in answers were all to do with the hearing aids provided as you can see below

NHS hearing aids vs privately bought hearing aids  
  NHS Private sector
Waiting times 78% 95%
Cleanliness of hearing test facilities 96% 98%
Comfort of hearing test facilities 86% 90%
Level of privacy 96% 98%
Professionalism and knowledge of staff 93% 95%
Dealing with questions or concerns 91% 95%
Clarity of written and verbal information provided 89% 93%
Thoroughness of examination/ testing 94% 96%
overall customer service 92% 95%
Range of hearing aids offered 23% 84%
Appearance of the hearing aids 72% 95%
Comfort of the hearing aids 75% 92%
Extent to which the hearing aid/s suited you 74% 91%
Replacing lost or damaged aids 88% 90%
Dealing with repairs 87% 92%
Ease of booking follow-up appointments 78% 95%
Continuity of care (e.g. seeing the same audiologist) 48% 88%
Follow-up serv1ce 74% 92%
Overall price N/A 72%
Value for money N/A 75%

The Hearing Aid Questions

Hearing aids provided was really where the difference between NHS and private showed up. While I wasn't surprised by the difference in satisfaction in either the answers to the range or appearance questions, I was surprised by the answers to the answers to the comfort and extent of suitability responses. I expected them to be pretty level. Some of that could be explained by the fact that NHS users weren't satisfied with what was offered, therefore their feelings about comfort and suitability were swayed. 

Up to 84% of private customers rated the range of aids as above average in the private sector, compared with just 23% of NHS patients. While customers can access the same hearing aid brands on the NHS as they can by buying privately (not the latest models). The NHS does not offer a choice of different models. Interestingly enough, where people could name the brand of hearing aids that the NHA had provided, they didn't really differ between the NHS or private. The bulk of the aids were Phonak, Oticon or Signia. 

Having said all of that, the satisfaction rates that were achieved by private retailers also have a story to tell. For instance, why was the range of hearing aids provided only met with an 84% satisfaction rate? That surprised me considering that many of the high streets would offer a full range of models from many of the leading hearing aid brands. What more where the consumers looking for? I would dearly love to know the answer to that question. 

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