What’s the Difference between Audiologists and Hearing Aid Dispensers?

What’s the Difference between Audiologists and Hearing Aid Dispensers?

In a previous article, we explored the growing popularity of over-the-counter hearing aids – and many of the potential risks users face, including:

  • Auditory deprivation
  • Subpar amplification
  • Discomfort and disuse
  • Wasted time and money

If sound clarity is important to you, you’re better off avoiding over-the-counter alternatives and sticking with a licensed professional who is trained in proper hearing aid fitting and customization.

And in California, this basically leaves you with 2 choices:

  • Audiologists
  • Hearing aid dispensers

Both are trained and certified in audiometric testing, hearing aid fitting and follow-up care. In fact, these 2 professions are the only ones that are legally allowed to provide the above services under California state law.

However, there are critical differences between how dispensers and audiologists work – and what additional services they’re allowed to provide.

Hearing Aid Dispenser Certification at a Glance

The licensing requirements for hearing aid dispensers are fairly straightforward. To become credentialed, you must:

  • Submit to fingerprinting and routine background checks
  • Be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or equivalent certification
  • Pass California’s written and practical exams for hearing aids. Unfortunately, this exam hasn’t been updated in years.

California also requires that dispensers receive training in audiometric testing and fitting – primarily for the sale of hearing aids. However, the state does not mandate any number of supervised hours for dispensers.

Audiologist Certification at a Glance

In California, becoming licensed in audiology requires completing many more requirements. Before you can legally practice in this field, you must:

  • Submit to fingerprinting and routine background checks
  • Receive a doctoral degree (or equivalent) in audiology from an accredited institution
  • Complete 300 hours of supervised training in 3 different clinical settings
  • Complete a one-year externship with a recognized audiology doctoral program
  • Successfully pass the National Audiology Exam (with a minimum passing score of 170)

When Choosing Hearing Aids – Does It Really Matter?

On the surface, the above differences aren’t that important:

  • Both audiologists and hearing aid dispensers receive training and take exams, with the former having to go through a few additional hoops
  • Both of these professions are certified by the state of California to provide hearing aid fitting and customization services

So does it really matter whether you go with one or the other?

Yes. Because when you look at the actual numbers, some surprising facts begin to emerge.

For example, hearing aid dispensers represent 41% of all license holders throughout California and are responsible for 80% of all consumer complaints.

Just to put that in perspective, this means you’re 5 times more likely to file a complaint against a hearing aid dispenser than against an audiologist. Throughout their careers, roughly 2 out of every 7 hearing aid dealers will eventually have some type of complaint filed against them by a dissatisfied customer.

What Hearing Aid Dispenser Complaints Are the Most Common?

When it comes complaints, the list is vast – ranging from fraud to false advertising to bait-and-switch scams. Below are just a few examples of how hearing aid dispensers bilk unsuspecting customers:

  • Artificially inflated pricing, with some hearing aids costing $10,000. And these prices are often reserved for lower quality models that one could buy over-the-counter. Not only is this scam expensive, but wearing poorly fitted hearing aids can actually harm the user – leading to cognitive decline, auditory deprivation and reduced hearing ability.
  • False representation, with many hearing aid dispensers choosing to mimic the white coats and official-looking initials that are commonly used among medically trained professionals. What makes this strategy so distasteful is that dispensers deliberately target elderly users – i.e. those with the greatest need for hearing aids and the fewest resources to protect themselves.
  • One of our personal favorites (or least favorites) is the common practice of not complying with state-mandated hearing aid refunds. Under California law, consumers are allowed to return hearing aids within 45 days and get their money back – no questions asked. Not only do some dispensers not honor these refunds, but they sometimes charge additional fees for restocking, fitting and trial testing – all of which is illegal.

Should You Always Avoid Hearing Aid Dispensers?

Not necessarily, and it’s not our goal to paint the entire profession with such a broad brush. In fact, there are many reputable dispensers who genuinely care about their patients and do a great job delivering outstanding service.

However, the entire system is designed with misaligned incentives and insufficient oversight. This makes it too easy for hearing aid dispensers to take advantage of patients who aren’t always aware of their legal rights.

This doesn’t mean that you personally will fall victim to one of the scams outlined above. But given the numbers, there is a significant risk that you might. If you have already, we strongly encourage you to file a formal complaint with the State Licensing Board.

Our Approach to Hearing Aid Fitting and Customization

At The Hearing Solution, we don’t believe that hearing the world more clearly should be risky. It should be a joyful and empowering experience, which is why we take so many precautions to ensure you receive the greatest possible benefit from your hearing aids.

Our process includes:

  • Comprehensive screening to determine the exact nature of your hearing loss. We conduct these exams in settings designed to mimic the real world.
  • Extensive diagnostic testing and verification to make sure that we select the most appropriate hearing aids for your needs. Again, this testing is also done in carefully controlled environments that simulate those situations that give you the greatest difficulty.
  • Up to one week of testing in the actual real world. This ‘test drive’ gives you an opportunity to see how well your hearing aids perform outside of the lab – i.e. in crowded restaurants, busy streets and family gatherings.
  • An additional trial period that lasts anywhere from 1 to 3 months. It’s important that you feel comfortable with your hearing aids before financially committing to any single solution.

We carry many high-quality hearing aid brands and will happily walk you through the pros and cons of each manufacturer. However, we will never pressure you to choose one brand over another.

If you’ve already discovered a model that you trust, bring it in during the diagnostic testing phase. That way, we can run you through side-by-side comparisons so that you can hear the difference for yourself.

Very seldom will dispensers offer to do the same. This is because most of them are owned by a specific manufacturer. And this essentially locks you into a one-size-fits-all approach – even though hearing needs change from user to user.

Let Us Help You Find the Perfect Hearing Aids

If you’re in the market for new hearing aids – or if you’re not happy with your current pair – we’d be happy to help you find the perfect solution for your hearing needs.

To get started, schedule a diagnostic appointment with us today.

Interested in learning more? Attend one of our regular hearing solution events to learn more about our unique approach to hearing loss or give us a call at 916-646-2471.

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