As technology and medical research continue to advance, more facets of your healthcare are becoming increasingly over the counter, whether that be medication, devices, or just medical advice. Treatment for hearing loss is no exception, with over the counter hearing aids becoming an imminent reality, invoking worry in many audiologists across the country. As hearing aids become more accessible over the counter, audiologists fear the impact on their profession and practice. This disruptive innovation is poised to achieve a new market foothold, becoming a more attractive option to new consumers who are looking for the most convenient and simple transition into hearing aids, taking business from traditional hearing aid manufacturers and audiologists who often bundle devices into their services. Though they seem convenient, the introduction of OTC hearing aids shows that despite intentions to increase accessibility and reduce costs, patients are not receiving the treatment they desperately need in exchange for ease.
According to the OTC Hearing Aid Act, the intention was to increase accessibility and affordability of devices, though OTC hearing aids have done little to achieve those goals. In fact, they hinder the ability of patients to get the information and proper assessments that they should have before finding the most effective hearing aid. OTC Hearing Aids utilize a business model designed to bypass diagnostic evaluations, hearing needs assessments, and audiologists all together in favor of self-identifying a device. Not only does this keep patients out of their doctor’s office, but also from receiving the medical advice they may need, ignoring the advocation by organizations such as the American Academy of Audiology for required medical evaluations for OTC hearing aids. Moreover, “receiving an OTC device is expected to be based on self-perceived mild to moderate hearing loss, not measured hearing capability that directly aligns with the definition provided by ASHA.”
As hearing loss can differ greatly from patient to patient, it’s critical that patients do not bypass professional medical advice. Herein lies the fear of audiologists, as numerous unofficial polls conducted via social media and trade publications have documented the anxiety had by medical professionals as OTC devices are positioned to impact not only their practice but their profession as a whole.
To combat this imminent and disruptive technology, Audiologists must aim to change public perception about the importance of their profession and medical advice regarding hearing loss. ”The efforts of the profession should be focused not on a device, but rather on educating the public such that they recognize audiologists’ value and demand access to it.” says Dr. Sarah Sydlowski, Audiology Director of the Otolaryngology department at Cleveland Clinic, ”Take every opportunity to reinforce the value audiologists provide. Emphasize the importance of a hearing evaluation before deciding to use any hearing device. Help the public understand that an inappropriate hearing device can be as detrimental as no hearing device.” With proper advocation, audiologists can continue to give the critical information required for patients with hearing loss, ensuring that patients do not give up their doctors for convenience.