OTC Hearing Aids Coming, But Some Seek Options Now

By | January 30, 2019

“You can only buy online or over the phone via a specialist,” says Christian Gormsen, CEO of Eargo. “We have professional audiologists on staff who support clients all over the nation.” Eargo hearing aids, Gormsen adds, will never be sold at a drugstore or big box store, where you might expect to find over-the-counter hearing aids in late 2020.

Sound World Solutions offers a direct-to-consumer hearing aid, too.

Over the phone or online, buyers give specialists the same medical information that they would in an audiologist’s office and say they understand that this is a medical device and not suited for people under 18.

Direct-to-consumer hearing aids come with factory presets for hearing loss, ranging from mild to severe. Audiologists who sell hearing aids in their clinics say factory presets aren’t good enough.

“A hearing aid that’s fit by a professional is fit to a prescriptive target based on scientific research so that the volume is set to how someone hears at those exact frequencies,” says Cynthia Hogan, PhD, an audiologist and director of the hearing program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

But, Gormsen of Eargo says, direct-to-consumer hearing aids do almost the same thing. They are pre-tuned to enhance hearing at the frequencies where, according to research, hearing loss most commonly happens at each level of severity. 

“It’s true that we don’t go in and individualize each one, but [professional fitting] is an ancient byproduct of a time 30 years ago when [hearing aids] really needed to be tuned,” he says. “The presets are based on data and experienced audiologists, so it’s how you would fit them in a clinic.”

Some direct-to-consumer hearing aids, such as Sound World’s, allow users to download an app and customize their device beyond out-of-the-box settings. “It’s a fitting software just like an audiologist uses, but it’s the end user that does it,” says Basseas.  

McDonell opted to buy Eargo’s direct-to-consumer, self-fit hearing aids in lieu of the $ 10,000 option offered by her audiologist. At $ 1,450 to $ 2,550 for the three different models the online company offers, they were less than half the price of her first pair of hearing aids. She didn’t feel she was losing out on any support by skirting the typically required face-to-face visit with an audiologist.

“They are great on the phone. Their videos provide the best instruction. The website is easy to navigate. And if needed, they’ll talk to you online through Skype,” McDonell says. “I personally don’t feel any need to see anybody.”

Most importantly, the hearing aids work. “I can hear the heat coming out of the register,” she says. “I don’t think people with normal hearing can do that.”

WebMD Health