by dr. kelly spiller, audiologist - professional hearing center, belton, missouri

The Internet is Not the Best Place to
Purchase a Hearing Aid. Here’s Why...

Recently I received a phone call from a consumer.  The caller is not a patient and had found a set of hearing aids he wanted to buy on the internet, from another consumer.  He wanted to know if I would see him for an office visit following his purchase.  I asked him why he wanted to get them from a website from an unknown source when there are plenty of audiology and hearing aid dispensers in and around the Kansas City region. His answer was simply, “I’m not paying $2000 for hearing aids.”
There are several things wrong with buying hearing aids over the internet, but especially from an unknown, non-credentialed person.  Here’s what you need to know about the problems with purchasing a hearing aid online:

Hearing aids are medical devices and should only be dispensed by professionals with the proper education, training and licensure to fit them. They should only be prescribed after a full audiological evaluation has been conducted by a licensed and trained Audiologist.  The reason for the evaluation is to rule out medical or surgical problems that may be better corrected with proper intervention before hearing aids are an option.

At the publication of this article it appears unclear as to whether or not it is legal to purchase hearing aids from another consumer.  The Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts, American Speech-Lanugage Hearing Association, Missouri Speech-Language Hearing Association and Representative Chris Molendorp’s office are helping me look into the matter further.
 The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association cautions consumers that they should not buy hearing aids by mail order or online because doing so may mean bypassing crucial parts of the audiological evaluation process such as testing and fitting that is needed in order to maximize the benefit from the hearing aid.

Are the hearing aids cheaper to buy from a consumer on a random website? Very likely the answer is no.  If the hearing aids themselves are priced lower than they are typically sold for then maybe one should consider how much money will be thrown away if the hearing aids purchased are not adequate for their needs, cause acoustic trauma or cause infection in the ear?

As noted by the Federal Trade Commission, the majority of states require a trial period of between one and two months for hearing aids. During the trial period, you can wear the hearing aids to see if they work for you, and speak with your audiologist about any problems you may be having.
Be sure you are clear on a trial period policy before you buy the hearing aids. Some offices have you pay up front and offer a refund if the aids are returned. Make sure you understand the policy with regard to amount of refund, and fees, including return fees...particularly when purchased over the internet!

When you buy hearing aids, you get a warranty for the hearing aids. Make sure you learn how long the warranty covers the hearing aids, what is included in the warranty such as coverage for repairs or loss. The FTC also cautions that a hearing aid manufacturer may not honor the warranty unless you bought the hearing aid from one of their authorized sellers.
Here’s an example: ReSound product warranties are offered only in connection with sales through authorized retailers. Sales via direct mail or the internet (including such sites as eBay) which do not include face-to-face fittings, will not be recognized by ReSound, and as a result, any product warranties originally associated with such products shall be void. Each product warranty is provided only for the benefit of the patient originally assigned to the serialized unit. Product warranties are not transferable. Any product sent to ReSound for service or repair that has not been obtained by the patient via an authorized distribution channel (as determined by ReSound at its sole discretion) will be confiscated or returned to the patient unrepaired

One Manufacturer’s policy on internet sales is this:
At ReSound, we believe our hearing instruments will only deliver their full benefit to patients when they are fit and maintained by a licensed professional. We are committed to the idea that satisfied patients result from professional guidance in the selection, fitting and maintenance of a hearing instrument. People with hearing loss deserve choices that allow them to find the solution that best meets their individual needs. We believe this is best accomplished through a personal relationship with a licensed professional. Based on this, ReSound will only supply hearing instruments to authorized retailers that provide face-to-face fitting, counseling, and maintenance as part of their hearing instrument package.

EBay’s policy on hearing aid online sales and purchases is as follows:
“While hearing aids don’t require a prescription, the law requires all listings of hearing aids must include the following disclaimer:
“According to the FDA, it is in your best health interest to obtain a professional medical evaluation before purchasing a hearing aid and you are encouraged to do so before bidding on this item. If you choose to not obtain a medical evaluation before purchasing this item, I am required by law to provide to you and obtain from you a signed written waiver of the medical evaluation, and I am required to provide to you a copy of the User Instruction Brochure for a hearing aid, review the contents of that brochure with you, and afford you time to read the brochure. You must provide to me either a signed statement from a physician or a signed waiver before I will deliver this item to you. Upon your request, I will also provide to you a copy of the User Instructional Brochure for the hearing aid or the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor from whom a User Instructional Brochure for the hearing aid can be obtained.”
The statement must be included even if the item in the listing is non-prescription, is antique, or doesn’t work.