Buying a hearing aid has to rank among the most tedious of shopping experiences. To begin with, it's not an item that people are excited about buying. For another, these devices can cost thousands of dollars, and typically are not covered much—if at all—by insurance. There's jargon to understand, and tiny controls and batteries to master. And once you've got your aid or aids, it could take a month or longer for your ears and your brain to fully adjust. As hearing professionals are fond of saying, it's not like putting on a pair of prescription glasses.
What's more, getting good information, and making sure the dispenser knows enough about you to provide the right device, can be a challenge. Indeed, in the course of researching CR's hearing aids report, we sent hearing-impaired secret shoppers to buy aids in a variety of settings—hospital clinics, private offices, standalone stores and even Costco. In the course of their shopping, which took several months, they encountered numerous difficulties and a few pleasant experiences as well.
Below is a sampling of their comments; some are from the shoppers themselves, and some are from CR staffers who accompanied them (without letting the hearing-aid dispensers know who they were).
They often found dispensers lacking:
“The dispenser decided on a hearing aid without asking any personal questions at all.”
“They sold me a completely-in-the-canal model without asking if I minded using that style.”
“The vendor was brisk, hurried, covered the basics quickly. If I were not familiar with the process from previous exams, I would have been lost.”
They experienced “the sell”:
“Hearing aids were normally $6,200 per pair, but until the end of the week, there was a $1,000 discount for one hearing aid. The dispenser extended it to $2,000 for both hearing aids, making the total price $4,200.”
“The dispenser offered 60% off the second aid. He took off $60 from price to round off to $6,100 (for the pair). He ‘threw in’ 48 batteries and offered a 100% refund in exchange for reducing the trial period to 30 from 45 days.”
“The dispenser pushed for the top-of-the-line aids, saying if (the buyer) wasn’t satisfied she could try the mid-level aids. It seemed to me she should try the mid-level first.”
But they reported bright spots, too.
“The dispenser had us stay as long as we needed to ask all our questions. She explained everything thoroughly.”
“The dispenser recommended the lowest-level hearing aid because he thought it would do what the buyer needed.”
“When I complained about the quality of the sound from my first hearing aids, the dispenser exchanged them for a different model.”
“I love, love, love the new hearing aids. I am hearing music sounds I have not heard for over 20 years.”
CR Health's article, "Hear well in a noisy world" has lots of useful advice on shopping for the right hearing aid for you. (Some elements in this series, including performance Ratings of some features on a select group of models, are available only to subscribers.)
And if you've shopped for hearing aids in the last couple of years, what surprises, good and bad, did you find? Feel free to comment below.