A few weeks ago I tested a woman who had worn hearing aids for over 20 years. She was getting ready to invest in her fifth set of hearing instruments yes, her fifth set. She had come to me for a second opinion. First, we did a Lifestyle Assessment to learn about her day-to-day requirements for hearing.

Then, I tested her hearing and included additional speech testing to determine how well new technology would help her hear better. Lastly, I took the time and explained her test results to her. With tears in her eyes, she told me that no one had ever taken the time to truly explain her loss to her or ask her where and when she needed to hear more clearly. 

On two occasions, she had received a quick, fifteen minute test and was then told to go down the hall to be fit with new hearing aids. Which she did, no questions asked! She felt like she had no say or any choice in the matter because this was within her HMO plan.  By the way, her health insurance did not cover any of the costs for hearing aids.

This was strictly an out-of-pocket expense. She described these two experiences as “being treated like a hearing loss instead of a person or like a number in a massive medical system.” She also admitted having purchased hearing aids from “someone she wouldn’t buy a used car from” but again, felt like she had no other choice. The last time she was fit by “a nice person but he didn’t seem to know much about adjusting her hearing aids”. 

In spite of these experiences, she was still searching for a better solution for her hearing loss. I want to thank this woman for sharing her stories because she inspired me to write this month’s column.

You can have the best technology in the world and still not do well if you are missing any part of the human element to a successful hearing aid fitting. The three human elements are a completely competent and caring hearing healthcare provider, a motivated client and a supportive family member. Each person plays a vital role in whether you will be happy with hearing aids. 

The Hearing Healthcare Provider

In the state of California, Licensed Hearing Healthcare Providers test hearing for the purpose of fitting hearing aids. This testing is not considered a medical evaluation. Should your case history or hearing test indicate a medical problem, you must be referred to a doctor for medical attention. The hearing test is usually done as a complimentary service with no charge to the client. Hearing aids are typically fit through the “retail” model of dispensing. 

Audiologists, on the other hand, are extensively trained in diagnostic testing. Many, but not all audiologists, hold two licenses — one for diagnostic testing and one for the fitting of hearing aids. The price of this testing ranges from $75 – $150, and hearing aids are usually fit through the “medical” model of dispensing. 

Completely Competent & Caring Provider

Whether you choose a licensed hearing aid dispenser or an audiologist, you want this person to be competent in two areas: people skills and technical knowledge. It is critical that the provider understands your problems and takes the time to get to know you. Be sure you feel comfortable with this person since you will be working closely with them.

Secondly, the provider must demonstrate a high degree of technical expertise during the testing and follow-up care. Pay close attention to the thoroughness of your hearing test. Did it only take fifteen minutes or closer to an hour? Did you feel rushed? Or were you given the time you needed? Were the test results explained to you in an easy-to-understand manner? Or were you simply told you need hearing aids with little or no explanation?

The care and attention you receive during the initial appointment is often indicative of how you will be treated after the fitting. A successful hearing aid fitting actually begins after the delivery of the hearing instruments. Most hearing aids need adjusting in the weeks following delivery.

When you have a legitimate complaint, you want to feel confident that the provider will know what to do to help you. To find the right provider for you, get a referral from a friend you trust.  And keep looking until you find the right provider.    You have a choice. 

Motivated Client 

No matter what type of hearing loss you have, you must want to hear better and be willing to go through some changes. Learning to hear through new amplification averages four to six weeks but can take up to several months. No one wants to wear hearing aids but surveys show that once people invest in better hearing, the benefits of properly fit hearing instruments far outweigh the hassles. 

Supportive Family 

I have actually seen an excellent fitting go sour because of uninformed family members. To avoid this, be sure to include a family member for the entire hearing rehabilitation process. You want them to be with you during the hearing test and explanation of your results.

Your family must be educated so that they know what you are going through. They must also be informed as to how much hearing aids will help you. Hearing aids can’t “cure” hearing loss anymore that glasses cure vision problems. But hearing aids do help people hear better and improve family relationships. 

Learning to hear better through new hearing instruments is a process. Having at least three people (the right provider, a supportive family member and an informed and motivated YOU!) working together will ensure a successful hearing aid fitting.