As a hearing professional who has sat in front of NHS patients, one of the most common questions I was asked was, how do I go about getting a better hearing aid? However, owing to departmental impartially little advice or assistance was advised. These patients were largely left to their own devices to source more satisfactory solutions. Now sat in front of my private patients it is apparent that they are still ill informed and unaware of the vastly different options available to them. Leaving me to be the primary person answering their questions, which can be difficult to fit into a 90 minute consultation. After visiting several different health professionals, typically their G.P., NHS audiology, a national hearing aid company and doing internet research the patient arrives not knowing typical price structures, difference in clinical qualifications (competence) for achieving optimum outcomes, the importance of technology level and service packages in achieving satisfaction. Therefore I thought I would offer some advice based on the Which Magazine report.
If you decide to buy hearing aids rather than go to the NHS the price of the hearing aids is bundled with the service and follow up. In order to compare hearing aid prices it is important to compare like for like only. So make sure you know what is included. You are buying a whole on-going package not just a one off purchase. Independent hearing aid centres tend to be cheaper and have more flexibility when offering products because they are not generally tied to manufacturers. National companies tend to offer older technologies at lower price points, have higher overheads and therefore premium products are often more expensive and often they do not verify the fitting of the hearing aid which is important to ensure correct prescription. Hearing aid devices last on average 3 to 5 years, so you will need to build in the cost of replacing them. Manufacturer’s guarantees are attached to service packages to a maximum of 5 years, manufacturer’s guarantees are essential as you are buying an electronic device that can go wrong. Lifetime aftercare is a gimmick term used by companies to give you a false perception of the life of the hearing aid and the ongoing costs, it is a valueless term, as any quality independent hearing aid centre will always look after you and your hearing aid once you have purchased a hearing aid on an ongoing basis.
Ongoing costs can include batteries, domes and wax guards which can total an average spend of £50 to £100 per year. With some independents this cost is included in their premium packages. Batteries can be purchased for between £2 and £4 a pack (6 batteries).
There are 7 main manufacturers who all have four current ranges and therefore four price points. The four ranges are a basic, mid-level, advanced and premium level, with the performance and cost increasing as you go up the range. Average prices are from £500 to £3500 per hearing aid. The average spend in the UK is £3k for a pair of hearing aids. At Chalfont Hearing are prices range from £750 to £2000 per hearing aid with a basic service package. If you buy mid-level hearing aids from high street hearing centres you are likely to get older or lesser quality technology than obtainable from independent hearing centres. If you buy premium hearing aids (from high street hearing centres, like Boots, Specsavers, Hidden Hearing) you will often pay an unnecessary premium for exactly the same product. Hearing aids supplied by the NHS (such as the Oticon Zest) are mid-level technology and were released to the private market in 2008, they have since been super-seeded by 2 generations. We would advise against going for cheap hearing aids especially those under £500-£600 pounds as they are often old or extremely basic technology, these hearing aids maybe ‘OK’ for housebound elderly patients who can not get to the hospital but will offer limited benefit.
However getting value for money is about more than just the cost of the instruments. Actually the price is fairly trivial, its about service and therefore the difference of whether the hearing aids work or not. The amount you pay should reflect the quality of the instrument, the service and your lifestyle requirements. If your lifestyle is fairly relaxed and you rarely leave the house a more basic hearing aid is perfect, if you are still working and socially active then you will need something more premium.
Key questions to ask if you are buying a hearing aid:
1. Have you been offered a choice, have you reviewed the pro’s and con’s of different hearing aid styles and features?
2. Have you trialled them to see if they actually benefit you?
3. What is the warranty period (repairs and replacement)?
4. What level and quality will the fitting be done to?
5. How will the aftercare be delivered?
Five things to watch out for:
1. Some companies offer free guides on hearing aids and follow these up with home visits. They are often lead generation companies who operate in a sales based way.
2. Do not buy hearing aids online without a full hearing assessment, the hearing aid is only as good as the programming.
3. If you are shopping around, only compare ‘like for like’. That includes make, manufacturer, warranty, aftercare, additional extras, qualification of clinician and quality of premises and equipment.
4. Some companies have tie ins with manufacturers, this includes the NHS and therefore options will be limited if this is the case.
5. You should not need to replace hearing aids more than once every 3 years.
For your piece of mind Chalfont hearing Centre have considered and incorporated all of this information into our service delivery model to ensure our patients get the best advice on hearing aids possible. To have a hearing test and get informed and impartial information contact 01494 765144.