How to Choose the Right Fitter for Your Digital Hearing Aid

It is sometimes hard to accept that one is facing hearing loss and may need a digital hearing aid or other hearing devices to improve one's quality of life. Jay Gerber, former vice president of the National Football League Film Corporation and current manager of the NFL Frequency Organization Group, had that experience. He states, "At 40 years of age, I could not accept the idea that I was afflicted with a form of progressive hearing loss. It took family and friends over three years to convince me that I should go for a hearing test and get some help." When you are ready, you will want to start the process of finding out the cause of your hearing loss and then learning what options you have, whether it be the purchase of hearing devices or the pursuit of medical treatment.

In order to find out if you require a digital hearing aid, you should begin by seeing a local ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, so that all correctable conditions can be ruled out. You may find that your hearing loss can be corrected without the use of hearing devices if it is caused by a condition such as the fusion of the bones in your inner ear, known as otosclerosis, or a build up of ear wax. These issues can be corrected medically, however, once your situation has been assessed and any medical issues have been resolved, you may find that you are a candidate for a digital hearing aid.

In the next step toward determining which hearing devices are right for you, you will need to have a complete hearing test administered. Jay notes, "I was recommended to an audiologist for testing, and, at the time, the testing revealed that my hearing loss, although slight, did render me incapable of word recognition involving the high frequencies of the sound spectrum."

Make sure that the hearing test is thorough and is administered with high quality equipment. You should be tested not only for hearing acuity, but also for tolerance levels and speech discrimination to provide your hearing aid fitter with a complete assessment of your hearing so that the best possible solution for your hearing loss can be recommended. Note that under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, you have a right to your test results, whether or not you will be purchasing your digital hearing aid directly from the office that administered the test, so you can request the results and then shop around for your hearing devices.

When you receive your test results, make sure the test administrator or doctor explains them to you thoroughly. A person with a low speech discrimination score may never be able to understand speech clearly even through the use of the best digital hearing aid, but may instead find that hearing devices simply improve the situation to a degree. A good digital hearing aid fitter will give you realistic expectations, while someone who is only interested in selling hearing devices may make you promises that can't be kept.

In order to make sure you are getting the best price for your digital hearing aid, make phone calls or go online to see if you can get pricing information from a selection of providers of hearing devices. This may not always be possible, as some companies will insist to speak to you in person, but try to gather as much information as you can about what the cost of your digital hearing aid may be so that you can narrow down your search.

However, when you are selecting a digital hearing aid fitter, price is not the only criteria with which you should be concerned. As Jay explains, "Every hearing aid supplier feels that they have the solution to everyone's hearing loss symptoms and problems. Unfortunately, I have found through my experiences with hearing aid suppliers and audiologists that this is far from the case. In fact, there are those companies, in my opinion, that cater to the unaware and provide a minimum of technical sophistication primarily to accommodate only one aspect of a hearing aid, and that is the cost."

To be sure you are making the right choice for a fitter, there are several questions you should ask whomever you talk to—whether it is the actual fitter of the hearing devices or a family member or friend who is referring you to the digital hearing aid provider.

  1. Will my health insurance cover any or all of my digital hearing aid purchase? While many policies do not cover hearing devices, it is becoming more common in certain situations for part or all of the device to be covered, albeit with restrictions. In some states, your digital hearing aid may be covered by a vocational rehabilitation program if you are an individual with an impairment who is seeking employment. Some Medicaid programs also may cover part or all of the cost. Research your coverage up front so that there are no surprises down the road.
  2. What is your return policy on your hearing devices? While the FDA mandates that you have 30 days to return a hearing aid, a hearing aid provider also has the right to charge you a restocking fee that can be up to 15 percent of the original cost. This can amount to a substantial charge, so find out ahead of time, as not all companies charge this fee.
  3. When my digital hearing aid warranty runs out, what sorts of charges will there be for adjustments or repair? Do you offer an extended warranty? What does it cover and for how long? Be aware that charges for the adjustments or repairs of hearing devices may go up significantly at the end of a warranty period.
  4. How long does it take to get an appointment for an adjustment or repair of my hearing aid? What is your turn around time on adjustments or repairs? If you rely on your hearing aid for day-to-day activities, then you'll want to be able to make an appointment quickly and have the adjustments made as soon as possible. Some providers may have a way to make adjustments for you over the Internet, allow you to make adjustments yourself, or may guarantee same-day service for any necessary corrections.
  5. What do you charge for hearing aid adjustments? Note that you may need many adjustments in the early stage of owning your digital hearing aid, so it is important that these costs be reasonable.
  6. If I relocate for any reason, who can I go to for my adjustments or repairs? You want to be sure you are comfortable with this answer. If you are planning to move, spend time at a second home, or do extensive traveling you'll need to know where you can go for help with your hearing devices.
  7. What is your upgrade policy? Technology is rapidly changing, and the hearing devices you purchase today may be outdated next year. Find out if the provider has a plan in place that allows you to trade in or upgrade your current digital hearing aid for a substantial discount on a newer technology.

Most importantly, make sure that you feel comfortable with whomever you are talking to when you are looking for a provider of hearing devices. If you feel rushed or uncomfortable, then that is not the ideal digital hearing aid fitter for you. The person on the phone, the person answering your emails, or the person at the office should take the time to listen to you, to address any concerns you may have, and to make you feel like you are purchasing the right hearing devices for your needs.

And remember, when something seems too good to be true, it often is. Read all special offers and advertisements carefully. If you go in for a digital hearing aid fitting and are immediately told that the special offer doesn't apply to you, or if you feel you're being pushed to buy hearing devices that are much higher priced, leave. Always feel comfortable saying no if you feel any sales pressure or you don't think the hearing aid you are being offered is right for you. As Jay notes, "Finding the right professional help is critical to the successful implementation of hearing aid instruments."