It is costing more than ever before to stay healthy, and hearing health is no different. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (March 3, 2004), the average cost of assistive aids is upwards of $2,000—a sum that is cost-prohibitive for many of the 30 million Americans with hearing loss. In the same article, long-time hearing health care activist, Mead C. Killion, PhD, adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s School of Communication, criticized the industry’s high-priced listening devices, claiming that efficient hearing health care instruments could be made available over the counter to the consumer for a cost of around $100. Says Killion, “There are a lot of uncomplicated hearing losses in the mild to moderate range that don’t require a very sophisticated instrument.” Like most activists, Killion has presented the audiological community plenty of food for thought.
For good reason, the Food and Drug Administration regulated the field almost 30 years ago with the passage of The Hearing Aid Rule of 1977. Since then, only licensed specialists and dispensers can legally fit, calibrate, and dispense hearing instruments. Although most hearing loss is simply the result of aging, it is still a medical problem, which requires the attention of a trained individual’s expertise, in the event it is symptomatic of a more severe health problem. A condition that would, otherwise, be overlooked for an individual buying an over-the-counter product. An additional consideration is that if the hearing instruments is not properly prescribed, it can not only affect a user’s comfort level, but could, possibly, further damage his/her hearing down the road.
Affordability is a widespread problem throughout health care, and, unfortunately, there is no immediate answer to this dilemma. However, in the hearing health care community, practitioners and specialists have the opportunity to educate patients about the importance of professional diagnoses and technology to address the problem. This is where audiologists play a key role by providing services that are well worth paying for.
Rogena Schuyler Silverman