FAQs

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

What is the difference between a hearing device and a hearing aid?
Health professionals, regulators (such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration) and manufacturers commonly use the term “hearing device” because it captures the range of technology and related accessories involved in improving hearing outcomes. Hearing aid is a commonly used term.
All hearing devices are basically the same, aren’t they?

While all hearing devices have basic sound processing technology, some hearing devices are far more technologically advanced than others. Top of the range hearing devices feature the latest technologies in feedback reduction, background noise reduction, wireless capabilities and real time language translation features. Future hearing device technology developments will add new features such as alerting a user know someone is behind them. These devices are understandably more expensive.

Are hearing clinics that dispense hearing devices accountable for the outcome? Do they ask their customers ‘Are you using your hearing device?’ If not, why not?

Providers registered with the Australian Government Hearing Services Program have a legal obligation to try and maximise the hearing health outcomes of their clients. HCIA members are committed to helping every client, regardless of their funding status, throughout their hearing health journey.

Hearing care professionals tend to form longstanding, professional relationships with their clients. They take a great deal of pride in choosing the right device for their client and working with them to ensure it is fitted properly and used appropriately. It is worth noting that the complaint rate within the hearing sector is less than 1%.

Are more expensive hearing devices necessarily better?

Hearing loss is different for each person. The type of hearing device and the features required must be matched to a client’s hearing loss and lifestyle. For many people a basic hearing device and the right rehabilitation program will provide a very good result. Others may require more features which may involve additional cost. More sophisticated hearing devices have higher signal to noise ratio processing which helps in noisier environments; can adapt to different environments more quickly or automatically; and/or may be very small and cosmetically more pleasing to the wearer.

Are there minimum standards for hearing devices sold in Australia?

Yes. All hearing devices 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 device for me don’t have a conflict of interest or receive incentives for selling me a particular product?

HCIA promotes transparency in the sector. Hearing care professionals are required to provide clients with information relating to any preferred supplier arrangements and whether they receive an incentive for prescribing a hearing device. If this information is not made apparent to you, you should ask your hearing care professional what incentives or commissions they may receive. This will differ from one provider to the next. Hearing care professionals (audiologists and audiometrists) are highly trained professionals regulated by an approved professional body and who take great care in selecting the most appropriate hearing device for their clients and they do this regardless of the ownership structure of the business.

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

Hearing care professionals make their clinical decisions about what a client needs based on a suite of objective verification measures, a full clinical history and in consultation with the client about his/her lifestyle. The brand of hearing device a practitioner chooses to prescribe to a client is based on the client’s needs. Many businesses pay their employees a fixed and variable component of salary based on a range of quality measures.

How do hearing clinics ensure that people get the hearing devices they need 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 device include:

  • Communication needs
  • Lifestyle needs e.g. the user’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, trialling the hearing device is important to ensure the client gets the most suitable device for their hearing loss and lifestyle.

What is the difference between an audiologist and an audiometrist? Can both recommend a hearing device?

Audiologists in Australia work with clients of all ages – from infants to older adults – and clients with complex needs. They can assess hearing and auditory function, vestibular (balance) function, tinnitus, auditory processing function, and neural function by performing diagnostic tests. Audiologists provide rehabilitation as well as communication training, counselling and the prescription and fitting of devices.

Audiologists must have completed at least the equivalent of an Australian university Masters- level degree in clinical audiology.

Audiometrists in Australia primarily work with adult clients (including older adults) and provide a range of services to school-aged children. They focus on hearing and auditory function assessment and rehabilitation by applying a range of diagnostic tests and approaches including counselling and the prescription and fitting of non-implantable devices. Audiometrists may also provide rehabilitation for tinnitus using education and hearing devices.

Audiometrists must have undertaken at least the equivalent of an Australian Diploma-level Technical and Further Education (TAFE) vocational qualification in audiometry or a Bachelor of Audiometry from an Australian university.

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

A hearing device is a complex medical device which needs to be fitted properly by a qualified audiologist or audiometrist. If a person purchases a hearing device online, they could potentially waste a lot of money on a device that does not meet their hearing needs. Chances are that an on-line buyer will not know how to adjust the hearing device’s settings to achieve the best results or reach the required level of fitting. 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 device 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 with parts etc. There is also a risk that the consumer might get caught up in a demarcation between a ‘supplier’ who is someone other than an ‘installer’ for warranty purposes. HCIA recommends that consumers undertake their own research about hearing loss and hearing loss technology and consult a qualified and registered Australian hearing care professional in person.

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

Yes, customers should always be given a choice of hearing device. After taking into account the full range of a client’s needs and circumstances, an audiologist or audiometrist will recommend options that best meet the user’s needs.

Clients who are eligible for subsidised services under the Australian Government Hearing Services Program are eligible for a free hearing device. The vast majority of hearing-impaired Australians who access hearing care through the Australian Government’s Hearing Services Program do so at no cost. The devices provided under the Hearing Services Program are very good quality.

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

Hearing devices are not like spectacles, where once fitted, that is the end of the experience. After a hearing device is purchased, a number of adjustments may be needed as the user adapts to the amplification. For example, people new to hearing devices will start to hear sounds they may have long forgotten, such as the sound of their own breathing or the sound of the car indicator when driving. Regular meetings with your hearing care professional will help fine-tune your hearing devices to your environment and your daily routines. Other after sales services can include instruction on the use and maintenance of the hearing device, the removal of wax, battery replacements, and repairs to damaged devices as well as aural rehabilitation.

What can audiologists and audiometrists at hearing clinics do to help people get psychologically ready to accept the need for a hearing device, 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 device.  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 device systems and hearing loss, while others prefer more practical demonstrations and advice.

Audiologists and audiometrists are highly trained professionals who can help people prepare for and use a hearing device effectively.

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

When someone puts on hearing devices for the first time, they may begin hearing sounds they have not heard in a very long time. The human brain has to re-learn how to hear and process 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 devices fine-tuned for best results.

HCIA suggests that you encourage your loved one to start slowly at first, integrating hearing devices into their life gradually, starting with one or two hours a day. Over exposure to new stimuli can result in fatigue, discomfort and disappointment. People adjust to their hearing devices at different rates. Some people need a few days to adjust to their hearing devices, most need a few weeks and some may need a few months. Don’t give up but talk with your audiologist or audiometrist who can offer professional support and encouragement.

Where can consumers go if they are dissatisfied with any aspect of their hearing device, sales service or service from their audiologist or audiometrist?

There are many places consumers can turn to if they are dissatisfied with the hearing services they have received. 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.

Other avenues for consumer redress include the Hearing Services Program in the Department of Health, the Ombudsman office in their State or Territory, the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman, their health insurer, consumer advocacy bodies and professional bodies such as Audiology Australia or the Australian College of Audiology.

Why are vulnerable, older people targeted by the hearing device industry with direct marketing campaigns? Doesn’t this amount to hassling older people to come in for a hearing device 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 device if it were not warranted. It should be noted that complaints against the industry are less than one per cent.

Why do hearing devices cost so much?

Hearing devices are 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.

The cost of a hearing device is a 4-5 year investment that includes the product, the services of an accredited health professional, a device warranty that can last up to three years and ongoing care which may involve adjustments, cleaning of the hearing aid and battery replacements.

HCIA recommends that people with hearing loss investigate the subsidies they may be eligible for eg the Australian Government Hearing Services Program, rebates from private health insurance, workers compensation insurance, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or tax offsets.

Most hearing devices provided in Australia are fully funded by the Australian Government Hearing Services Program. The Australian Hearing Services Program is one of the best in the world because individual choice is at the heart of the program.

HCIA encourages people to inform themselves about their options for hearing solutions including by comparing the offers and prices of different providers. While friends and family may offer well-meaning advice, they may not be up to date with recent technological developments in hearing devices or what’s included in the cost of a device.

HCIA’s Hearing Aid Bank is also available for people with hearing loss who are working age and on a low income. To find out more, visit www.hearingaidbank.org.au