If you follow my blog on a regular basis, you know that recently I was charged with the enormous responsibility of helping my wife, Becky, with the purchase of hearing aids. The challenge was daunting, and involved hours and hours of research on my part, poring over the Internet in search of the “perfect” solution, which of course, was impossible to find. Not only did we have to identify the specific product, we also had to find the right professional to provide it. Becky’s major complaint was tinnitus, which is commonly referred to as a “ringing in the ears.” In her case, it was often severe enough to make sitting and reading a chore, rather than a pleasure. We needed to find a solution.
The first step in the process was to visit an otolaryngologist—more commonly referred to as an ENT, or ear, nose, and throat specialist—to determine whether Becky’s hearing loss was naturally occurring due to the aging process, or was being caused by a tumor or other medical condition. Thankfully, it was the former, and not the latter. Armed with that information, we next visited two different audiologists (much easier to pronounce) for actual hearing tests to determine the exact amount of hearing loss Becky was experiencing. The first professional we saw came highly recommended by our family doctor, and was delightful. Actually, we had both seen her several times before, and we felt quite comfortable with her. She identified the fact that my wife had a minor loss of hearing at both ends of the decibel range—the most common type of loss in senior citizens—and suggested a particular product that sounded great (pun intended). It did everything but wash dishes. The only problem was the price—a pair would cost nearly $4,000. “Isn’t there anything less expensive?” we asked in unison. “What about a different manufacturer?” asked Becky. She was sorry, we were told by the doctor, but she only sold the one brand. “We’ll have to think about it,” we said, and headed for the exit.
Surely, we agreed, we could find something less expensive. So, we went to a second audiologist to inquire about choices—and to have a second hearing test done (he insisted that was the only way he could see us). The test results were nearly identical (that was reassuring), and the doctor was extremely patient and friendly—until it came time to discuss our “choices.” Suddenly, he grew horns, his eyes turned yellow, and he morphed into a fire-breathing diamond salesman from New York City. The choices were quite simple: there was expensive and there was more expensive. Our response was the same as before: “We’ll have to think about it!” Once again, we hit the pavement running.
It was time to scour the Internet. After all, we had a pretty good idea of what we needed in a device, so all we were looking for was the lowest price. Big mistake! As I mentioned in a previous post, the hearing aid industry is no different than the eye care industry—or the used car industry. They’re all about the same. The words caveat emptor (buyer beware) apply to the three equally! To be sure, there is plenty of information to be found on the Internet; if anything, there’s too much information—but very little of it is helpful. In fact, most of it is downright confusing. And to complicate matters, it’s almost impossible to get a price. Often, when I called a phone number listed on a site that advertised “low, low prices on all name brands,” I was “steered” to a salesman, who would attempt to get us to schedule a visit with “one of our qualified agents in your area.”
Each time, I would patiently explain that we didn’t need another hearing test, nor did we want one. We knew which model hearing aids we were interested in, and just wanted a price. “You’ll have to make an appointment before we can quote you a price,” was the standard response. It was like watching the movie, Groundhog Day (if you know what I mean). I was at my wits end. We didn’t want another hearing test done, and we certainly didn’t want to do business with a large conglomerate. What to do? What to do?
Then it hit me. All the devices were about the same price (expensive), and they all had nearly identical technology. The only real difference was in whom we chose to purchase them from. Once you’ve begun wearing hearing aids, there’s no turning back. Just as with any other form of device, there’ll be a need for constant monitoring, servicing, and an occasional adjustment or two. We’re talking about a longterm relationship that could last ten or twenty years (after all, we are living longer). And, just as in any other form of relationship, it’s essential that there be a level of trust. In short, you need to like the person you’re dealing with. We both agreed we liked the audiologist we had seen initially, but there was one sticking point: the lack of choices available in manufacturer.
“So, how come you only deal with one manufacturer?” I asked the doctor’s assistant (I’ve always believed in being as direct as possible). “Oh, that’s simple,” she replied. “The technology is pretty similar with all the companies, but each manufacturer has specific computer programs that must be used with its devices. It would be almost impossible for the doctor to be totally familiar with all of them, so she chooses to master the one company’s products and programs in order to provide the best care to her patients.” It made sense! And since we already knew the doctor and liked her, it was a go.
So, last Thursday, we became the proud parents of twin hearing aids. They are already named: Red for the left one, and Blue for the right one, and we’re just fine with that. I like the doctor, Becky likes the doctor, and to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick, in the movie, Casablanca, “. . . we [sic] think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Okay, okay, relationship. Whatever. You get the point. So far, so good. Stay tuned. What? I can’t hear you!