Coming soon to a retailer near you, hearing aids at a fraction of the cost that reliable units are priced at today. The Food and Drug Administration has already approved the sale of these devices by non-audiologists, and legislation is wending its way through Congress that is expected to approve over-the-counter hearing assistance in the next few years.
Why is this important? Because many of the estimated 30 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss are senior citizens, and most Medicare plans do not cover hearing aids.
That’s the assessment of Joseph Gillespie of East Cooper Hearing Centers in Mount Pleasant, whose numerous professional credits include a master’s degree in audiology and more than 25 years’ experience in practice.
As a highly-trained practitioner of this medical specialty, you might think Gillespie would be opposed to the coming availability of lower cost, OTC hearing devices, which he estimates might be priced as low as $400 per unit, as compared with the $1,000 to $3,000 per unit price generally charged today.
But that’s not the case. Gillespie said that if and when over-the-counter hearing aids are sanctioned, his practice will provide them.
“I think all of us will,” he insisted.
In Gillespie’s professional opinion, new, lower-cost aids will bring millions of people with hearing issues into the market, where expert audiologists such as Gillespie will fit and maintain the devices. His expectation is that while some individuals will be helped significantly by the new devices, many more will seek more nuanced assistance from the sophisticated devices he will continue to offer.
Gillespie said he always reminds new patients that hearing aids do not correct hearing loss. They improve hearing by aiding the inner ear – the complex, sensitive cochlea – that has been damaged, whether genetically or by exposure to chronic loud noise, as in factories, by attending loud rock concerts, through armed combat and more. He pointed out that the Veterans Administration is the nation’s largest dispenser of hearing aids.
Gillespie said patients also should be aware that diminished hearing has been linked to brain deterioration and accelerated brain damage.
If a patient is not satisfied with the hearing improvement from OTC devices, the higher-end aids offered at East Cooper Hearing Centers can provide a wide range of cutting-edge advantages. For example, many smartphones can send a signal directly to hearing aids that utilize Bluetooth and similar wireless communication technology, and many TV accessories provided by the hearing aid companies send the signal directly to the hearing aids.
“Competing noise is the enemy of all hearing aids,” Gillespie said, “and these advanced systems and devices are able to reduce more of that unwanted noise.”
Gillespie said he rarely advertises his services, relying primarily on word of mouth and physician referrals. He warned against placing much faith in hearing aid systems frequently promoted in big, multipage newspaper ads.
“It’s a real case of caveat emptor – buyer beware,” he added. “Many franchisers and large corporations have entered the hearing aid market in recent years. In general, their new dispensers have far less training and are not certified audiologists.”
“So whether you are seeking a simple, over-the-counter device or something more complex and usually more helpful, it is important to remember that hearing loss is a medical ailment, and, like any other medical ailment, the best course of action is to consult with an accredited professional,” he said.
“I truly enjoy this rehabilitation field,” he concluded. “It is very rewarding to see a patient hear better. This is a quality of life issue.”
For more information on East Cooper Hearing Centers, visit www.eastcooperhearing.com or call 843-881-8666.
By Bill Farley