At UberHearing™, we've been connecting with many people to facilitate open discussion about hearing aids and the hearing care industry in Canada. Not surprisingly, it's an issue that many people are quite passionate about, as hearing loss affects millions of Canadians and most people have friends and family who are affected by hearing loss. The more people we connect with, the more we've realized the amount of misinformation that exists.
The general public perception is that hearing aids are significantly overpriced. CBC's Marketplace produced an episode directly targeting hearing aid manufacturers and retailers for their pricing practices. Although the "expert" sources used by CBC were American online hearing aid retailers, (with, no doubt, a shred of bias), the public's attention was drawn to real, important issues that need to be addressed.
It's clear, from the ensuing discussion, that the public wants more transparency and more options. It's also clear that, with few exceptions, the hearing aid manufacturers and retailers want to defend their existing pricing structures and are reluctant to change. In a unique market, where only 20% of those who need hearing aids are actually buying them, and with an increasing number of tech-savvy customers buying products online, the market is clearly shifting. It's a sad reality, given the growth in the aging demographic, that some longstanding hearing aid retailers, who have operated in the traditional manner, have had to close their doors or sell out to large chain retailers.
It comes as no surprise. After all, we live in a capitalist country where business is free to charge what it will and consumers are free to shop elsewhere. However, not all "freedoms" are beneficial for everyone. With fewer and fewer customers, retailers have to increase their margins. With increased margins, comes fewer and fewer customers. It's a vicious circle that is not sustainable and doesn't serve hearing aid consumers or retailers.
Once and for all, hearing aids are not expensive. The next time you get a quote for a hearing aid in Canada, ask them to break out the price of the hearing aid from all other charges, and ask them to disclose any discount they'll receive. What you'll witness is truly eyeopening. Quality, approved hearing aids are affordable! Yet you'll quickly discover that knowing the price of a hearing aid does not equate to being able to purchase it for that same price. As the CBC Marketplace episode pointed out, the difference is in the service charges added to (or bundled with) the price of the product on quotations. In most cases, these service charges exceed the cost of the hearing aids. The hearing aid itself, however, is reasonably priced.
As an aside, there may be products on eBay or Amazon that are significantly cheaper, but these products are "hearing amplifiers", which use lesser technology and will not cut the mustard. The comparison of hearing aids to hearing amplifiers is beyond the scope of this discussion. What consumers need to recognize is that the equalization, compression, directionality, feedback suppression, sound-in-noise filtering, etc. capabilities of even the lowliest of hearing aids far surpasses that of the best hearing amplifier.
While the actual, physical hearing aid is not expensive, a hearing aid can be just an expensive earplug without the right fitting and programming. Professional services are critical to attaining a satisfactory hearing aid fitting. Trending online retailers are limited in terms of their ability to fit or adjust their product to the needs of their customers because your ears are a part of the hearing solution. A critical process, called Real Ear Measurement (REM), can only be performed with the hearing aid placed in the customer's ear canal. Unfortunately, the majority of hearing professionals (although capable) do not perform this service even when you're in their office.
How important is Real Ear Measurement? Let's put it this way: Would you buy a musical instrument without listening to it first? The sound of the instrument is primarily created through the resonant activity within the cavity, or body, of the instrument. REM is a very important process that must be performed for a satisfactory fitting and includes the individual ear canal as a part of the "instrument" under evaluation. Clinical adjustments made based on the REM data may double (or halve) the required sound intensity of a hearing aid at certain frequencies. The addition of vents and/or filters may also be an important part of this process that may be missed if REM is not performed. A hearing aid cannot be properly programmed with the results of a hearing test, alone. In this case, "properly" means "meeting minimal standards of tolerability." If you know someone who doesn't wear their hearing aids, they likely have never had REM performed.
How much are these critical, professional services worth? On average, the time taken to test, diagnose, consult, perform Electroacoustic Analysis and REM, and fit a customer with a hearing aid is about five hours. However, many dispensers/retailers charge upwards of $900 per ear as a dispensing fee. That's over $200/hr if you buy one hearing aid or over $400/hr if you buy two. Is that rate justifiable? Does the specialist's workload double due to the addition of a second hearing aid? Are there no economies of scale?
The recent trend of buying hearing aids online is troubling, but paying upwards of $400/hr for hearing services is equally disturbing, and puts hearing aids out of reach for the majority of those with hearing loss, especially seniors on fixed incomes. Quality hearing aids do not have to be so expensive, and poor technology and/or online products are not the answer. The marketplace needs affordable quality products and services to those with hearing loss. Enter UberHearing™.
At UberHearing™, we're all about inspiring positive change in the hearing care marketplace. Click here to read more about us. Join the discussion.