Hearing Health and Technology -- Workshop, Project No. P171200
As a Board-Certified Hearing Instrument Specialist, licensed in the State of Illinois for 28 years, I offer to you the following opinion: Allowing for Hearing Aids to be sold in an OVER-THE-COUNTER (OTC) format would be a disservice to all hearing-impaired consumers and have an ill effect on the industry professionals who dispense hearing aid devices. This bill has been written and introduced WITHOUT A FULL UNDERSTANDING of the detailed process necessary to properly evaluate, educate and fit each patient with hearing aids that effectively cover the specific needs of their hearing loss. My new patients are always surprised to find out how involved a proper hearing aid fitting can be. Purchasing "Hearing Aids" is NOT like purchasing eyeglasses over the counter! With eyeglasses, you can sample the different strengths of lenses and select the pair you can see most clearly with. The brain must be retrained over time to recognize sound again, however, to regain the sense of hearing. Yes, the auditory process actually forgets the sounds it does not hear for a long period of time! A hearing loss is unique to an individual, so even if 10 people have the same hearing loss on paper, each one would most likely require a different prescriptive fit. Sometimes people with a significant hearing loss can only tolerate a small amount of amplification due to recruitment. Other times, people with a mild hearing loss want and need as much amplification as someone with a significant hearing loss. In my 28 years of dispensing, I have fit well over 3,000 hearing aids, and in those fittings ONLY TWO people actually liked what the computer picked based on their hearing loss. After the initial fitting of the hearing instruments it takes on average, two to three follow-up visits for a patient to accept the new amplification. I can only imagine how disappointed consumers will be if the hearing aids are purchased OTC without any adjustments or counseling! I must also stress how often I discover notable medical conditions during the otoscopic exam and/or hearing evaluation. As a hearing instrument specialist, I have "red flags" to look for that require a referral to a medical doctor if they are present. I have seen ear infections, tumors, cerumen (earwax), and once, a hearing aid battery that had been inadvertently placed in the ear by the patient. I refer at least one out of every six people I see to have the cerumen removed BEFORE I can proceed with their hearing evaluation. The hearing evaluation itself reveals "red flags" that turn out to be tumors, otosclerosis, or the need for a cochlear implant, etc. Consequently, if a consumer does not receive an otoscopic exam or hearing evaluation PRIOR to purchasing hearing aids, any conditions which may be present will go undetected and the patient will not receive the proper care. Also keep in mind that hearing aid prices have remained relatively the same since digital hearing aids were introduced 20 years ago. In my office, hearing aids are only a few hundred dollars more today than they were at that time and the technology is probably 20 times better! So PRICE should not be considered a major stumbling block to hearing aid use, especially when most hearing aid offices offer financing plans, some with payments as low as $28.00 per month. If you want to do what's BEST for the consumer, consider the following: People purchasing OTC hearing aids could risk damaging their hearing further if the hearing aids are too loud for them, they could be covering up a medical condition, or even worse, they might not even need hearing aids IF they just have a cerumen buildup in their ears. And, they certainly will not get the adjustments and counseling necessary to make the hearing aids work for their unique hearing loss. Therefore, for the safety and well-being of the general public/consumer, I ask that you PLEASE VOTE "NO" for S.670 Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 and also the companion bill, H.R. 1652.