How to get what you need within your budget. This article is aimed at the United Kingdom, but can apply globally.
This guide will provide you with everything you need to know to enable you to choose a hearing aid (Hearing System) in the UK with confidence, the minimum of wasted time and at a price which suits you.
I HEARING TESTS
A. Private vs. NHS.
If you have your hearing tested by the NHS, it is free, as will be your hearing aids and batteries. There are though, as you might expect, many advantages to having Hearing Aids prescribed through a private ‘Dispensing’ company or individual. These include
Service: private Dispensers have more time for you. Private Hearing Tests are, however, free, just as NHS tests are.
While investigating the history of your ‘Hearing’, which can assist in providing a tailor-made solution for you, the NHS will not have anywhere near as much time to dedicate to you as a private audiologist. A typical NHS consultation last for only 45 minutes, which is not a long time to solve a problem (if there is one) concerning one of your most vital senses. ‘Private’ dispensers/audiologists work under a strict code of practice, which means that you will get the best advice in relation to any hearing test results: if you will not benefit from a Hearing Aid, a private dispenser will tell you this.
The choice of Hearing Instrument is very wide indeed from a private dispenser: the NHS provides only a very limited choice, and within that choice it is very unlikely that the NHS can provide one of the very tiny, discreet ‘in-the-ear’ hearing aid systems.
If you are in any way unhappy with a hearing aid dispenser who visits you, you can show him/her the door, and book an appointment with another company.
Most, if not all, private companies will provide a free ‘follow-up’ service, once you become a client. Do always ask if they can supply free batteries, for how long; and also ask what guarantees apply to your hearing system. It is possible to have up to five years’ guaranteed with your hearing system, although in such cases the discounts you receive will be lower. Nevertheless you should always ask what discounts are on offer: there is always room to negotiate.
Private Hearing Systems are not cheap: NHS systems are free and that also includes batteries. The NHS, however, will rarely visit you at home, unless there are grounds which make it difficult for you to leave your home.
If you have a private system, and run into a problem (i.e. it does not work), there will always be a telephone help service, and if you need a visit from your dispenser you will get one; there will almost certainly be no charge for this (ask first). You would normally have to make an appointment to visit your local ‘ENT’, or hospital to solve any such problem if you have hearing aids supplied by the NHS.
Privately, a hearing system can be prescribed, delivered and accurately programmed usually within about two weeks. Although the NHS has improved its service recently, it is unlikely to match the service you will receive if you do ‘go private.’
B. Getting the best from a test.
Try to ensure that your ears are not blocked with wax before the date of your test. If they are, this will mean that your test is likely to be delayed, as the presence of too much wax can affect (detrimentally) the results of a hearing test. Be ready to answer some ‘medical history’ and ‘lifestyle’ questions, which will help the dispenser to help you.
Try to have someone with you during a test. This will ensure that you will be comfortable with what is said and done, and you can always get an opinion from someone you know, in respect of any questions a dispenser may pose. If your hearing is very poor, a friend/relative who is present at the test will ensure that you understand everything being said and asked of you.
Allow an hour to an hour and a half for your test. Be positive about it: any good hearing aid dispenser will genuinely try to help you. So he/she may spend some time in order to explain his/her findings and ultimate recommendations.
C. Price and “one ear or two”.
As mentioned above, private hearing aids are not cheap: be aware that companies offering hearing aids from £99.00 are unlikely to recommend you to have one of these. To get the best experience, you should consider a hearing aid with as many ‘channels’ or ‘bands’ as you can afford. This will mean a starting price of in excess of £599.00 for digital (or thereabouts – and that is probably for a two-channel only system). From there, and if you want the best, the sky is (almost) the limit: but be assured that buying the best does make a big difference, and like most things which come at a price, you will get the benefit. So if you like to have the best……….
‘More channels’ means that the hearing aid can more accurately match a hearing impairment in the different frequencies along the human range of hearing. It is a complicated subject, but one which a hearing aid dispenser will be happy to explain.
Please also be aware that your prescription may be categorised into ‘mild’, ‘medium’, ‘severe’ or ‘profound’ in terms of the degree of hearing loss you may be experiencing. Hearing aids may be recommended even for a mild or medium loss: this will be explained. But so that you are aware, even if you have only a mild or medium hearing impairment, one or two hearing aids may still be of great benefit, as your brain may need to be exercised in order that you can enjoy the best hearing experiences available to you. The dispenser is not, under such circumstances, attempting to deceive you in any way.
A. Small and large private companies
Firstly you should be aware that buying cheap hearing aids (for £10 or £20) is not recommended by the RNID (Royal National Institute for Deaf People). These do not provide the benefits of a properly programmed instrument, based on the results of a hearing test.
Internet companies tend to offer the best prices. However, a local and established dispenser is someone you can get to know, someone you can rely upon and someone who will look after your interests for as long as you like and, most importantly, need. The simple reason is that you may either recommend him/her, or you may wish to replace your hearing aid(s) some years down the road. In that case the service you have received will influence you greatly.
The larger companies and the national companies clearly have the advantage of being able to provide their services over a much larger geographical area. One advantage may be that you can access their services when you are away from home. Be aware that some of these national companies are, and some are not, hearing aid specialists; and though you may not always see the same dispenser, they are available at the same place week in, week out.
This is a choice you must make for yourself. Of course, if you are willing to undergo more than one hearing test, you can then make your own comparisons; but his may be a little tedious, and could mean spending quite some time having your hearing tested. Nonetheless, a hearing test is an entirely painless procedure.
B. Code of Practice
The Health Professions Council strictly regulates the ‘dispensing’ of private hearing aids. If you have any queries, click on: http://www.hpc-uk.org/
C. Home visits.
Many dispensing companies now have high street retail outlets. Home visits, however, should be available to you. Either way, it is worth booking an appointment in order to be sure that you will not be wasting your time.
As mentioned above, it is sometimes easier to book a home visit from a private dispenser: not least because they can arrange this more quickly than can the NHS
Don’t forget to try to have a relative or friend with you for your hearing test.
The NHS tends to supply only the ‘BTE’ (behind the ear) hearing aid(s). The private sector may well recommend this type of system for you, but not because (as with the NHS) it is the only thing available. Your dispenser will always explain the reasons for his recommendations; however he/she will always consult with you first to discover what you might, and might not, be prepared to wear in terms of size and style. If your hearing prescription can be met, you may have – privately – the tiniest, most discreet hearing instrument you choose.
The more serious hearing impairments will, however, limit the choices available to you. Once again, your dispenser will explain this.
As a very general rule of thumb, for the smaller and more ‘invisible’ the hearing aid, the price will tend to be higher. Clearly market forces play a part in this (demand, supply and cosmetic personal cnoice), but there is also a manufacturing element involved. I.E. the technology will have to be made to fit a tiny space, which must not only remain functional and reliable (a vital element of the price), but must also comfortably & correctly fit a client’s ear.
Digital or Analogue? Most hearing aids prescribed today are digital. They provide clearer sound, and can be programmed more accurately to match a hearing loss. Digital hearing aids tend to be more expensive, but their advantages justify this. A dispenser will explain the difference in greater detail if you are interested.
You may want any number of optional extras, which include different 聽覺測試 programmes for different listening environments. You may want the use of a ‘remote control’. You may even want a hearing system, which automatically takes into account the noise of the environment in which you find yourself, and is automatically able to change programme to suit that listening environment.
You can now begin to see why the prices of some hearing aids, which at one time may have looked unbelievably high, are in fact representative of the benefits and comfort (not to mention clarity) they provide.
Some of the larger companies will be able to supply hearing aids with payment options, and/or extended payment terms. If this is something you would consider, then ask about terms either before (ideally) or during your consultation.
Your hearing aid dispenser will always give you ‘best advice’: it is part of the code of practice to which all private dispensers must adhere, and part of the value of his/her service.
So while it is almost certainly case that this advice should be considered while you are with your dispenser, and it is certainly quite true that ‘the sooner you have a hearing system, the quicker you will be able to habilitate yourself to it”, the decision always rests with you. Hearing aid dispensers are there to help – yes, even the private ones.
We believe that this guide will provide you with the very best information (ammunition?) to help you get the best for yourself. It contains valuable information which would take days, possibly weeks, to research. Our advice is to buy the best that you can afford, and if that is absolutely out of the question, then go to your GP, who will refer you to the NHS service. It is your right, after all.
If you are over 65, then please be aware that you are almost certainly on a list somewhere, and you may well receive offers from ‘dispensing’ companies &/or individuals. They are not like the ‘usual suspects”: i.e. the ubiquitous call centres, in that they will take no for an answer, and you will NOT be asked to “press 1 for this”, and “2 for that” etc.