HCIA has compiled a list of commonly asked questions around hearing aids. To read the answers to the questions just click on each of the questions below.

Hearing Aids - Frequently Asked Questions

All hearing aids are basically the same, aren’t they?

While all hearing devices have basic sound processing technology, some hearing aids are far more technologically advanced than others. Top of the range hearing aids feature the latest technologies in feedback reduction, background noise reduction, wireless capabilities and more. These devices are understandably more expensive than the more basic models.

Are hearing aid centres that are paid by the government for dispensing hearing aids accountable for the outcome? Do they ask their customers ‘Are you using your hearing aid?’ If not, why not?

Hearing care professionals tend to form longstanding, professional relationships with their clients. They take a great deal of pride in choosing the right aid for their client and working with them to ensure it is fitted properly and used appropriately, so they are highly motivated to ensure their clients are satisfied. It is worth noting that the complaint rate in the industry is less than 1%. The Department of Health also plays an oversight role in ensuring clients under the Hearing Services Program receive high quality services.

Are more expensive hearing aids necessarily better?

More expensive hearing aids tend to have many more features to ensure that the wearer gets the best experience. They can address and adapt to far more environments for the wearer. The type of hearing aid and the features required are matched to a client’s hearing loss and lifestyle.

Are there minimum standards for hearing aids sold in Australia?

Yes. All hearing aids are vetted by Australia’s world-class regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), before they are permitted to be sold in Australia. They are classed as a medical device and all medical devices marketed in Australia must meet the requirements which are set out in Chapter 4 of the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, and in the Therapeutic Goods (Medical Devices) Regulations 2002.

In addition the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC), an independent scientific committee comprising individuals with expertise in clinical medicine, health economics and consumer matters, advises the Minister for Health on whether a new hearing device should be publicly funded based on an assessment of its comparative safety, effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and total cost, using the best available evidence. In providing this advice, MSAC may also take other relevant factors into account.

As a consumer, how do I ensure that those who prescribe a hearing aid for me don’t have a conflict of interest or receive incentives for selling me a particular product?

Hearing care professionals are highly trained professionals who are regulated by an approved professional body and who take great care in selecting the most appropriate hearing aid for their clients and they do this regardless of the ownership structure of the business. They also willingly disclose any relationship they might have with the manufacturer of the device.

Does the hearing industry pay of commissions to staff, especially for “upselling” customers into more expensive hearing aids?

Hearing care professionals make their clinical decisions about what a client needs based on a suite of objective verification measures and a full clinical history. The brand of hearing aid a practitioner chooses to prescribe to a client is entirely up to them and is based on the client’s needs.

How do hearing centres ensure that people requiring hearing aids get the device they need and at the best value price?

Audiologists and audiometrists are highly trained professionals. When recommending a hearing device they exercise their professional expertise to ensure the clients gets the most appropriate level of technology based on the level of their hearing impairment and their personal communication needs.

Factors that are taken into account when recommending a hearing aid include:

  • Communication needs
  • Lifestyle needs e.g. the wearer’s environment, as some devices can adjust automatically to a noisy environment where others require manual adjustment,
  • Dexterity e.g. any requirement for directional microphones (to improve listening in the presence of background noise), any requirement or preference for blue tooth connectivity (so hearing impaired people can connect to their phones, televisions or other devices).
  • Comfort and ease of use (if the device is not comfortable the client is less likely to continue to wear it),
  • Shape and size of the user’s ear and
  • Financial considerations

Whether it be a device provided under the Government’s Hearing Services program or a private purchase, trialing the hearing aid is important to ensure the client gets the most suitable device for their hearing loss and lifestyle.

Is an audiologist the only person able to recommend a hearing aid?

Audiologists are highly skilled allied health professionals who study hearing, communication and psychology over a five-year period. They are university-qualified in the assessment and diagnosis of complex hearing disorders and the fitting and programming of hearing devices, but more importantly in the provision of rehabilitation, counseling, diagnosis and treatment of disorders.

An audiologist is the healthcare professional best trained and most appropriate to consider the many factors when making a recommendation for hearing devices. Only your audiologist can interpret your hearing test result and type and configuration of your hearing loss can mean that some types of hearing devices are not suitable for your loss. The size, shape and health of your ear canals may also make some devices more suitable than others.

Your audiologist will also want to gain an understanding of your lifestyle – the activities that you participate in, the people and place where your hearing loss is most noticeable and the situations that you are hoping to improve with a hearing device. This will help your audiologist to understand which listening situations are most important to you and help them to make a recommendation.

Based on this information your audiologist will be able to recommend what type of hearing device will be most suitable.

Is buying a hearing aid over the internet a good idea? If not, why not?

A hearing aid is a complex medical device and it needs to be fitted properly by a qualified clinician. If a person purchases a hearing aid online, they could potentially waste a lot of money on a device that does not meet their hearing needs, and the chances are that they will not know how to adjust its settings to achieve the best results or reach the required level of fitting if this is undertaken remotely. Consumers need to be aware that if they buy a hearing device online or overseas, what might appear as a favourable price advantage initially may later be lost by the cost of the device needing to be serviced in Australia. The consumer may also be at risk of not being able to have their hearing aid serviced in Australia if the model they purchased is not sold here. An analogy can be made with other electronic or high tech devices purchased overseas which are then not supported after the event with parts etc. There is also a risk that the consumer might get caught up in a demarcation that can occur between a ‘supplier’ who is someone other than an ‘installer’ for warranty purposes. HCIA recommends that consumers should minimize their risk by buying locally.

Should customers always be given a choice of hearing aids? If not, what circumstances justify being presented with a single option?

Yes, customers should always be given a choice of hearing aid. However, after taking into account the full range of a client’s needs and circumstances an audiologist or audiometrist is likely to provide a recommendation that in their professional opinion, best suits the wearer.

Customers with a voucher provided by the Hearing Services Program are only eligible for a limited range of hearing aids where these are fully funded, as determined by the Australian Government. This enables the vast majority of hearing impaired Australians to access hearing care and rehabilitation via a Federal Government scheme, at no cost to them. The aids provided under this scheme are of a very high quality. It is worth noting that almost three quarters of the hearing aids fitted under the Government scheme are at no cost to the wearer.

What after sales services do hearing centres provide to help clients ensure they use their aids effectively or make adjustments if needed?

Hearing aids are not like spectacles, where once fitted, that is the end of the experience. After a hearing aid is purchased there are usually a number of adjustments that need to be made as an individual’s nervous system starts to adapt to the amplification. Other after sales services can include instruction on the use and maintenance of the aid, the removal of wax, battery replacements, and repairs to damaged devices and aural rehabilitation.

What can audiologists and audiometrists at hearing centres do to help people get psychologically ready to accept the need for a hearing aid, and so people willingly modify their behaviour to use them effectively?

Identifying communication situations that cause a hearing impaired person the most difficulty is an important first step in helping them accept the need for a hearing aid.  Audiologists and audiometrists can advise a client about difficult listening conditions, how it affects them and others around them, and strategies for managing such situations. Some people may benefit from highly technical information about hearing aid systems and hearing loss, while others prefer more practical demonstrations.

Audiologists and audiometrists are highly trained professions who can help people prepare for a hearing aid and help them use them effectively.

What suggestions do you have to encourage my loved one to use their hearing aid?

When someone puts on hearing aids for the first time, they may begin hearing sounds they have not heard in a longtime. Their brain actually has to re-learn how to hear these sounds, particularly the complex range of frequencies in human speech. Recent studies suggest that a listener’s ability to comprehend speech may continue to increase over a period of several months – a process is called acclimatization. Re-learning to hear is an ongoing process. As they progress, your loved one may need to have their hearing aids fine-tuned for best results.

HCIA suggests that you encourage your loved one to start slowly at first, integrating hearing aids into their life gradually, starting with one or two hours a day. Overexposure to new stimuli can result in fatigue, discomfort and disappointment. People adjust to their hearing aids at different rates. Some people need a few days to adjust to their hearing aids, most need a few weeks and some may need a few months. If you or your loved one has any concerns we recommend you go and see your audiologist, who can offer further professional support and encouragement.

Where can consumers go if they are dissatisfied with any aspect of their hearing aids, sales service or service from their Audiologist or Audiometrist?

In the first instance, HCIA recommends consumers raise any dissatisfaction they might have directly with the hearing care professional concerned or the business as they need to know there is a problem in order to attend to it. Consumers are also very welcome to take matters up with the Department of Health if they were fitted under the Government Program or other entities that represent consumer interests.

Why are vulnerable, older people targeted by the hearing aid industry with direct marketing campaigns? Doesn’t this amount to hassling older people to come in for a hearing aid they may not need?

Older Australians are an important segment of the community whose hearing needs need to be met. One in six Australians are currently affected by hearing loss, and this is projected to rise to one in four Australians as the population ages by 2050.  The impacts of hearing loss are significant for individuals, their families and the broader community – in fact the economic cost of hearing loss to Australia was estimated in 2017 to be $15.9b. To suggest that the industry harasses or exploits older or vulnerable Australians is not borne out in evidence.  The industry operates to ethical standards and no practitioner or manufacturer would countenance the prescribing of a hearing aid device if it were not warranted. It should be noted that complaints against the industry are less than one per cent.

Why do hearing aids cost so much/what they do?

The cost of hearing aids is in the order of $2,000 to $6,000 but it is important to note that the cost, while substantial to many, typically includes the initial hearing test, device consultation, and fitting and follow up appointments. It also includes regular hearing aid cleaning and a device warranty that can last up 3 years.

On the surface they can appear expensive, but hearing aids have highly specialized electronic components in them that are specially developed for the purpose. A hearing aid is a complex medical device that has taken years of medical research and testing to develop. Hearing aid manufacturers invest huge amounts in Research & Development to create this technology and unfortunately the number worn is small in comparison to for example mobile phones, so as a result the cost is higher.

Hearing aids are also some of the most powerful computers in the world. Each device is designed for specific types of hearing impairment and different devices have an array of different features to enable this. They have highly developed software algorithms which amongst other things, reduce unwanted noise, recognize and enhance speech, compress certain frequencies to make them audible to the hearing impaired and allow a hearing aid to detect which direction speech is coming from beam in on that. All this happens in a series of frequency bands. The more expensive the hearing aids have more bands which means that you will be able to hear well in noisy situations. All these features have to be properly fitted and fine-tuned according to the hearing loss and a client’s needs.