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Lynn S. Alvord PhD
Hearing Aid Types, Providers, and Insurance
“It is my opinion that” -
This “hearing aids” section contains much of my own opinions (Alvord). While I work primarily with balance problems, through the years I have had much experience working with hearing aids, including at the VA, University of Utah and at Henry Ford Hospital. As such, this section is less academically rigid than the others; however, this allows for what I believe to be useful information, especially for the public, if not so much for other professionals who have their own opinions.
Which Brand is Best? –
Bottom line, in my experience there are several excellent companies out there, the difference being primarily the expertise of the fitter in the areas of programming and verifying the acoustic performance of the instrument in the patient’s ear.
Little research exists that compares data between one company and another. A few years ago, a popular consumer magazine finally came out with an issue purporting to do this, but really didn’t, instead merely advising the consumer on what to watch out for when buying a hearing aid. There are technical as well as likely political problems for the lack of such data, with personnel switching companies so commonly. Imagine comparing which prosthetic arm would work best on a particular patient. Such a fitting requires a combination of both science, experience and practical talent. Fitting a hearing aid involves not just the electronics of the aid itself, but also the acoustic characteristics that are affected when “coupling” the ear to a particular shaped ear canal.
I advise sticking with the two or three largest companies because they have the resources to lead in technology, with the other companies following a year or so later.
Who Should Do The Fitting?
Going back to my statement in the opening paragraph of this section, the person doing the fitting is the most important variable in achieving the most effective hearing aid settings. There is certainly an advantage in using someone who is very experienced as well as up to date. As an audiologist, I naturally favor audiologists as the ones to do the fittings, but I admit that there are hearing aid dealers (“hearing aid specialists”), who also do a good job, though admittedly they do not generally have as much college training on the subject. There are fitters from both fields who do sloppy work, therefore, having some referral sources, references, etc. is helpful. Be sure they offer a money back trial period. Buying your hearing aid on the internet is at this point, not a good idea because the fitting and follow-up support is very weak for now.
There are some health insurances that reimburse for hearing aids, notably, some Blue Cross plans, as well as others. The fitter likely will need to be a paneled provider with the particular insurance. Always ask about this because if the office you are dealing with is not a provider for your particular insurance, very often they will not let the customer know that they are covered or if they went elsewhere their hearing aid would be paid for by their insurance.