Both specialists can give patients different, complementary information that will help them make an informed decision regarding hearing aids, they jointly wrote in an e-mail. While the otolaryngologist is best positioned to provide medical-surgical care, the audiologist is the expert when it comes to counseling, recommending, and fitting hearing instruments, especially high-tech digital products. Correctly counseling patients based on their hearing loss so they have realistic expectations is also crucial, they noted.
Explore this issue:March 2009
What Patients Need to Know
Patients are often confused about their options and the differences between hearing aid technologies, said Dr. Palmer.
Moreover, many patients have an outdated perception of hearing aids based on both functional and cosmetic limitations and are happy to learn that today’s devices are considerably different from the kind they might have seen their grandmother wearing, said Dr. Coelho.
Although hearing aids are improving, patients should understand that they still don’t provide normal hearing, said Dr. Hawkins.
Patients also need to be comfortable with technology to make the newer models a success, noted Dr. Hawkins. Most baby boomers have learned how to use computers and readily adjust to newer hearing aids, whereas older people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s sometimes don’t adapt as well to using the more advanced devices, he explained.
Because hearing aids are usually not covered by insurance, patients should also understand a basic pricing structure, which often includes two- or three-year service packages, said Dr. Hawkins. Prices generally range from $1300 to $1400 per ear for lower-end models, about $1800 per ear for middle-range models, to about $2500 per ear for more advanced high-end models.
Two Unique Approaches to Hearing Aids
Two new products appear to be taking a unique approach to hearing aid technology.
The Lyric (InSound Medical, Newark, CA) is a continuous-wear hearing aid designed for moderate to severe hearing loss. An audiologist or otolaryngologist places the device completely in the ear canal only 3 or 4 mm from the eardrum.
Patients really never have to touch it, and it’s basically invisible, said Michael Scherl, MD, an otolaryngologist who consulted in the development of the product and who has offices in Englewood and Westwood, NJ, and in New York City. Users can turn the device on and off and raise the volume using an external magnet, he explained.
Lyric can remain in the ear for up to 120 days at a time. An audiologist replaces the device every few months when the battery dies. Battery life varies less according to power and more according to the amount of moisture and cerumen in the ear, said Dr. Scherl, who has been paid as a consultant to InSound and holds equity in the company.