I need to start this blog post by saying that I am a huge fan of the CBC, it’s on my radio every morning and it’s the network I watch most on my television.

Today, CBC Marketplace is running a story discussing the cost of hearing aids. I heard some excerpts on Robyn Bresnahan’s radio show CBC Ottawa Morning, and felt the need to address a few points.

The first issue involves a short interview with a gentleman who builds his own hearing aids and sells them on the internet.

He claimed that he can build a hearing aid for $200. If hearing aids are made for $200, why pay $2000? On the surface this seems like a great point. Unfortunately for Marketplace, they didn’t research the history of the hearing aid industry in Ontario. Many years ago, before the creation of Ontario’s Ministry of Health Assistive Devices Program, sales people could circulate flyers stating “Free Hearing Tests” and book appointments in local motel rooms. They would book 2-3 days worth of hearing tests, sell low end hearing aids, and then leave town, never to come back.

For the months and years following, these unsuspecting clients turned to local hearing clinics to get help for their poorly fitted hearing aids. Local clinics who invested in their community with a storefront and staff, but whose products and services were deemed too expensive. What could be done when a patient was poorly fit with a hearing aid that was from an unknown company?

Often times where you purchase your hearing device is just as important as how much you pay for it.

In the industry, we look at internet sellers in the same light as these motel sales people. Sure there will be folks willing to buy hearing aids at a cheap price. But when the problems start, it will be local professionals who will have to step in to help. Many years ago, the Ontario Government recognized that consumers were being taken advantage of, and through the Assistive Devices Program, the Ministry of Health stated that anyone who sells “Hearing Aids” in Ontario must have their products approved by the government and must have an office open to the public that offers service.

Thankfully the Ontario Government recognized the problem of unregulated sales, but it’s a shame that CBC Marketplace has given it more publicity. There are safeguards in Ontario and Quebec regarding the sale of hearings aids; rules and guidelines that must be followed.

The second point in the story involved the mark-up of hearing aid prices.

The excerpt I heard blamed audiologists for the amount they add onto the price. There was also a call for more transparency. Let me start by stating that I’m not an Audiologist. I am a Hearing Instrument Specialist. I own a clinic in Ottawa where I employ an Audiologist on my staff and I co-own 2 clinics in New Brunswick. In the New Brunswick offices my partners are audiologists. We are not the most expensive place to buy a hearing aid, nor are we the cheapest; we tend to sit comfortably in the middle.

Note that the Ontario Ministry of Health’s Assistive Devices Program mandates that all prices must be transparent. Professionals must follow a fee guide and show all charges billed to the client. The clinic’s purchase cost of the device must be listed on the client’s invoice, along with the dispensing fee and any other chargeable services. In many other parts of the country it is buyer beware.

The main question in this debate should be, when you buy a hearing aid, are you buying a machine or a 5 year treatment of your hearing loss? In my offices you’re buying the latter. I know, I know, it sounds like I’m trying to inflate the price of a hearing aid based on a few easy service calls. But it’s more complicated than that. Some clients visit and we see them only a few times whereas we see other people much more. A new client typically has 3 hours with our professionals before we feel they are comfortable to manage on their own; they are encouraged to return if they have additional questions or concerns.  Regardless of the number of visits, we need to keep the same standard of care for all of our clients.

When a local company invests in office space and provides the best level of professionalism in the industry to treat your hearing loss for 5-6 years, it can’t be done for $200. On top of this, my locations in Ottawa and New Brunswick offer monthly maintenance care in more than 14 retirement residences and free house calls for clients in need. We have a dynamic outreach service which truly contributes to the local communities. At our clinics we have worked very hard to offer value for money. We stand behind our services and fees we charge for them.

Thankfully, I chose to work with Audiologists and well qualified Hearing Instrument Specialists. When a patient is comes in for a hearing test and treatment for hearing loss, it’s important to do it right. We’re not selling widgets, but registered Class 2 medical devices. We’ve rushed patients to an Ear Nose and Throat doctor because we identified the hearing loss may be caused by a brain tumour; we’ve identified hearing loss in children; and we’ve helped with the diagnosis for Dementia. If you had hearing loss, where would you prefer to go?

I’m going to focus on audiologists because that seems to be where the blame is placed in the CBC interview. Audiologists have a Master’s Degree in Audiology; they work in hospitals and private clinics. They are trained to do many things (I won’t bore you with a list); hearing aids are only part of their profession. In our clinics, when you buy a hearing aid, you’re buying our services for the treatment of your hearing loss.

Our clients have access to the best professionals for as long as they own their hearing device.

The last point I want to make regarding the CBC interview relates to the length of time a hearing aid should last.

Again, this is a buyer beware issue. Currently in Canada, there are clinics owned by large companies who also own large hearing aid manufacturers, there are clinics owned by Audiologists and clinics owned by Hearing Instrument Specialists. What is the motivation at that clinic, hearing aid sales or the treatment of your hearing loss? If the clinic you go to is suggesting that you replace your hearing aids every 3 years, I would look for a second opinion. In our offices, we work with all Class 2 medical device hearing aids available in Canada and have always stated that they should last 5 years or longer.

Do your homework first.

⦁ Ask questions about the clinic you’re visiting. Who owns it?
⦁ Exactly what products do they carry?
⦁ How long should the hearing aid last?
⦁ What services are included?

Have the bill explained to you and question the services if you are unsure.

This post deals mostly with Ontario because the government has already taken action regarding some of these issues. The Quebec government has also been diligent in protecting consumers; however, we need more regulations that protect consumers in the Atlantic and Western provinces.

Full CBC story here.