At the recent 2017 Oticon Catalyst Conference in Dallas, the emphasis was on a dangerous trend occurring in the hearing-aid industry: People are buying hearing aid devices sight-unseen from the internet, which presents a number of serious problems for those who are suffering from hearing loss. Lisa Ballinger, Audiologist and owner of Accurate Hearing Technology in Sanford, is encouraged that Oticon, a major hearing-aid manufacturer, is finally doing something about this insidious practice.
“Many dispensers buy directly from Oticon, which creates the highest-quality hearing aids in the world,” says Lisa, who has made Oticon her exclusive supplier. “However, some dispensers are buying them in bulk and selling them in quantity online. They’re only interested in the sale and don’t want to bother doing hearing tests on patients. This is incredibly unethical.”
At the conference, Oticon announced it had shut down 70 such dispensers nationwide (60 of which were located in Florida), after tracking them down on the internet. They are no longer allowed to sell Oticon products, and according to the company, more shutdowns are imminent.
“We’ve been aware of people trying to save money by buying hearing aids over the internet for a while, but it always ends up backfiring on them because the device they buy isn’t programed to their individual hearing loss,” says Lisa. “Buying over the internet doesn’t work with hearing aids because you can actually damage your hearing further by buying a device that’s set incorrectly. A hearing aid needs to be set to thresholds achieved in a sound booth specifically for each patient.”
Additionally, with no warranty, no service provider, and nobody to reach out to in the event additional service is needed, patients are left to fend for themselves, and they often wind up wearing devices wholly unsuited to their needs.
“There’s no way to completely prevent this type of unethical behavior from dispensers, so it’s critical we spread awareness and educate patients about how to properly buy hearing aids,” says Lisa. “The first thing I tell patients is not to do it because you end up with problems that can’t be fixed. They’re getting ripped off, and it’s not worth the money they save. It’s not just about the hearing aid; it’s about the service we provide and the relationships we develop with them.”