What went wrong with hearing aids?

Traditionally, in the hearing industry there were three participants:

  • the manufacturer who makes hearing devices
  • independent clinicians who fit the devices
  • the clients who wear them.

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In this model, the clinician develops a strong and close relationship with their clients, similar to when you see your GP over many years. This relationship is important to the client as the clinician becomes familiar with their needs; and to the clinician who depends on positive word-of-mouth from clients to survive.

However, in recent years, and especially here in Australia, the situation has changed: manufacturers have bought out little independent clinics, setting up franchise-style shop fronts.

In this new model, clinicians are hired directly by the manufacturer, which is often a large publicly-listed company. Clinicians are required to fit that manufacturer’s devices, but are not required to disclose this relationship to their clients. Management provides sales training and sets sales targets.

The result is a high pressure environment with monthly targets to reach, high staff turnover and poor client satisfaction.

Independent audiologists are fixing the problem

There has been much media scrutiny recently over the ethical conduct of those selling and fitting hearing aid devices. Better Hearing Victoria has received many complaints by people who feel they’ve been tricked into spending unnecessary amounts on hearing aids they don’t need, with some spending up to $14,000.

However, this trend is starting to reverse: many clinicians are choosing to open their independent clinics again, working with less commercial pressure and more focus on their clients. Independent audiologist are pushing to change the system to make it fairer for Australians.

So here are 5 reasons you should switch to an independent audiologist:

1. Independent audiologists are NOT owned by a manufacturing company.

At present more than half of all hearing clinics in Australia are owned by manufacturers or belong to a chain. Have you ever received a phone call urging you to have a free hearing test? Most likely there is a chain brand behind it. This is a clear conflict of interest.

Audiologist Dahlia Sartika recalls a training session she was required to attend while working for a clinic with a hearing aid manufacturer as its parent company:

‘Something happened at the very beginning of the training. The trainer started the training by saying that he never had extensive training like all of us but he was very successful in hearing aids. He has his own practice … then he suddenly took out a copy of my certificates. He ripped my certificate in front of everybody, saying, “This is all meaningless if you do not sell.” I couldn’t really hear what he was saying because I was so shocked.’

2. No restrictions on who can sell or fit hearing aids

There is currently no government regulation or restrictions on who can sell or fit hearing aids, despite numerous entreaties to the government by Audiology Australia.

The government does not require any formal training or disclosure of commissions from hearing aid manufacturers. The person who fitted your last hearing aid could have been no more than a glorified salesperson.

3. Audiologists are university trained

Audiologists are the only university-trained professionals with specific expertise in the fitting of hearing aids and conduct of diagnostic hearing healthcare services.

Audiologists need to complete a Master of Clinical Audiology (MCAud) before they can practice. The course is a two-year full-time program that includes around 200 hours of supervised clinical practicum.

4. Audiologists have a Code of Conduct

Over 95% of clinical audiologists are members of Audiology Australia. Members are bound by a Code of Conduct that clearly states;

  • “Members must make recommendations to clients based on clinical assessment and the client’s needs, not on the basis of financial gain on the part of the member” and “must not accept or offer financial inducements or gifts as part of client referral arrangements with other health care workers.”
  • “Members must only provide services appropriate to clients’ hearing needs”

Read more about our code of conduct here.

5. Audiologists must disclose commissions

Members of the Audiology Australia are required to disclose any commission or financial relationships they have with manufacturers.

What you should ask your audiologist

  • Are they a member of Audiology Australia?
  • What is their financial relationship with the manufacturer of the product they’re selling you?