The sticker price of digital hearing aids still seems to shockeven the well-educated consumer. Many hesitate to invest in suchproducts because of the price. When the newspaper is peppered withenticing advertisements about $300 hearing aids, clients questionthe prices they paid elsewhere. "Could I have saved myself hundredsof dollars by getting my hearing aid elsewhere?"
Honestly, basic hearing aids could be built for about $300each. Only four basic components are needed to build a basichearing aid: a microphone to pick-up and translate sound intoelectrical impulses, an amplifier to make the electrical impulsesstronger, a receiver or speaker to translate those strongerimpulses into louder sounds to be delivered to the ear, and apre-wired faceplate to connect all these components together.
Anyone can purchase these generic components and put themtogether to produce a unit that amplifies sound. There is even acompany locally that does this routinely. There are many reasons,however, why good quality hearing aids cost as much as they do andwhy you should want to invest in a hearing aid built by a reputablemanufacturer.
You get what you pay for
Remember the adage, “You get what you pay for.”Ask someone who has listened to one of these homemade or generichearing aids. They sound awful. Most people who purchase thesetypes of hearing aids regret their decision. They end up puttingthese aids in the dresser drawer because the sound quality is soappalling, the craftsmanship so poor, and they lack the knowledgeof how to effectively use the device.
Manufacturers spend an enormous amount of time and money onthe research and development of digital hearing aids before theyare released to the public. The three main companies that we workwith at Kaczmarski Hearing Services reportedly spent $20-30 millioneach on the research and development of their latest product.
Developing new hearing aid technology is not just aboutelectronics anymore. Medical research is a new area of cost formanufacturers. It is necessary for scientists to gain a betterunderstanding of the complexity of the cochlea and effects ofhearing loss on the hearing organ in order to develop betterproducts.
Computer scientists and engineers must use the medicalresearch to develop miniaturized computer chips and formulas thatthe hearing aids use when amplifying sound. They also must designsoftware for the audiologist to use when programming and adjustingthese computer chips within the hearing aid. It can take years ofdeveloping and redesigning to generate a new product. Manufacturersare continually striving to produce a product that amplifies soundmore naturally, clearly, and comfortably, and is able to makespeech more audible in the presence of background noise.
Adjusting to a new hearing aid
Learning to use the hearing aid manufacturers design, whetheryou are a first time user or you are upgrading to substantiallyhigher quality, takes time. It is hard to teach old dogs newtricks, as the saying goes and some people take longer than othersat adjusting. Even the most independent do-it-yourself type ofperson can benefit from someone who really understands hearing lossand hearing aids. During the adjustment period, it helps to have aqualified, reliable audiologist available. They will help youdecide which of the problems you are experiencing are related tothe hearing aid itself, which will require adjustments of the aids,and which are related to relearning, requiring your brain more timeto adjust.
The amount of time an audiologist spends with someonelearning to use a new hearing aid is significant. At KaczmarskiHearing Services, we average five direct contact hours during thiscritical learning period. The only hearing aid course you couldtake that would provide you with the same benefits as working witha certified audiologist is offered only at Central MichiganUniversity, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, orWestern Michigan University. It is a minimum of 24 months, ishighly intensive, and will cost you a few thousand dollars. In theend, however, you will have the minimum amount of training requiredto be an audiologist – a Masters degree. No matter how we sayit and whether you like it or not, part of the cost of your hearingaid pays for the audiologist. To maintain the leading edge inhearing aid technology requires state of the art equipment andtraining, rent, and lights; all so you have a reliable place to goto for adjustments, counseling, and repair.
Most people who would benefit, don't wear a hearing aid
Having a good quality product from a reputable manufacturerand a qualified and reliable audiologist is only part of thepicture. Consumers must make that initial step toward pursuingamplification by contacting an audiologist. While there are anestimated 28 million people with hearing loss, less than 21% ofthem are wearing a hearing aid. That leaves a staggering 75% ofthose who would benefit from hearing aids who are not wearing one.While this is a frightening statistic, it is the root of theproblem. After a manufacture releases a new product to consumers,they must spend more money marketing the instrument.
Smaller sizes, more features
Years ago when microwaves first came out, they were huge andexpensive. As more people purchased them, manufactures were able todesign a smaller version and retailers were able to sell them formuch less. We are not seeing the same trends in the hearing aidindustry. Consumers want more out of their hearing aids yet thenumber of consumers investing in the products remains stagnant.
Phonak’s marketing director, Laura Voll, feels thatthere is a huge growth potential for the industry; however, thecompanies must first find a way to target and educate the consumerabout the differences an effective hearing product can make ontheir relationships and in their lives. Until more consumers arewilling to base their investment in a product that is going toimprove the quality of their life and those around them instead ofprice, the price will not drop.
The elevated price that seems to accompany this marveloustechnology is definitely worth every cent. Especially when youcompare it to other expenditures families experience these days.The average cost of one digital hearing aid can range from $1500 to$3500. Take the average cost of a top of the line digital hearingaid - $3199.40, divide that cost by 5 years (the lower end of thelife expectancy of a hearing aid) and it computes to $639.88 a yearor $53.88 a month. The amount of money most people spend monthlyfor cable, movie rentals, movie theater tickets, cell phones,magazine subscriptions, and restaurant bills well exceeds $53.88.
Audiologists, like consumers, are concerned about keeping thecost of hearing aids affordable. We would love it if more peoplecould benefit from the technology because communication is one ofthe most important skills humans possess. It is important to makean educated decision concerning your hearing loss and hearing aids.Hearing aids can offer significant benefits to those with hearingloss, more so than ever before. When purchasing a hearing aid trynot to be driven by the cost of a hearing aid. Remember the reasonyou are purchasing the hearing aid to begin with…. to bettercommunicate with your family and friends.
The Hearing Journal. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. NewYork,
NY. Volume 56. Number 10.
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