Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids – What They Mean for Your Hearing Care Practice

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Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids for mild-to-moderate hearing problems will hit the market later this fall.1 This means millions of Americans will now be able to buy hearing aids without a prescription or licensed professional at stores, pharmacies, and online

OTC hearing aids are meant to be less expensive than professionally fitted hearing aids. One goal of OTC hearing aids is to provide more timely access to lower-cost hearing aids. The lower cost for OTC hearing aids is because of technology differences and because no professional services or fees are associated with the purchase (the individual is self-selecting and self-fitting).1 

The good news for hearing practices is that having lower-cost options available may be exactly the push needed to get more people to start wearing hearing aids. 

The FDA estimates that nearly 30 million adults could potentially benefit from hearing aid use, but only about one-fifth of people with hearing problems use the devices currently.2

Studies show that the average person waits around 10 years after first experiencing symptoms before seeking professional hearing help.2 Studies also link untreated hearing loss with an increased risk of depression, falls, and earlier onset of decline in thought processes.2

With the introduction of OTC hearing aids, more people will have access to hearing aids than ever before. More wearers paired with seeing hearing aids now available as a more common purchase item helps to further erase the stigma of using hearing aids. 

A great comparison to help imagine the future effects of OTC hearing aids on the hearing industry is with prescription vs OTC eyeglasses. While OTC eyeglasses are readily available and found at most larger stores in a small variety of options, people with any vision issues beyond the most basic level of impairment still need to visit an eye doctor to confirm their prescription, get additional testing, and find more long-term prescription eyeglass options. 

Audiologists and other hearing care professionals will be able to provide support in the use of OTC hearing aids.3 After purchasing OTC hearing aids, people will likely be more inclined to talk to a hearing professional about what is working, what is not working, more advanced devices, and about creating a more individualized plan of care for their particular needs.

Long term, this is a positive for the hearing industry, with more people recognizing the benefits of treating hearing loss and an increase in hearing aid wearers overall. 

OTC hearing aids will be a good first step in getting people hearing help earlier, however, when people need a more customized solution, have more complex issues, or have an increasing degree of hearing loss, they will need to involve an audiologist or hearing care professional to create a more complete plan of care.

You might be wondering how to prepare your practice and your marketing for the new availability of OTC hearing aids. We have outlined some steps you can take now to be prepared and stay ahead of these industry changes: 

Consider Offering OTC Hearing Aids

In offering OTC hearing aids directly, you are still connecting new patients to your practice. A benefit to this connection is that if or when the basic OTC models do not completely meet your patient’s needs or when they require a more advanced option, you are already their primary source of hearing care and can easily provide them with different options that are more appropriate. 

Consider Offering Services for OTC Hearing Aids and OTC Hearing Aid Users 

You may choose not to dispense OTC hearing aids but still offer support and select services to patients who have purchased OTC hearing aids. 

Any services that you currently offer to your patients may be of benefit to the OTC hearing aid user. Evaluations, programming, adjustments, cleaning, repair, and general care guidance will still be beneficial to OTC users. You can still serve as a key figure of education and support to those with any need for hearing care.

Update Your Website

It’s important to update your website to acknowledge the new availability of OTC hearing aids. You want people searching for information to see you as a trusted source of authority within the hearing industry. You can also include information about if your practice will sell OTC hearing aids or not and if you will offer services to patients who have purchased devices elsewhere. 

Plan for Pricing and Protocol

As mentioned above, it’s important to establish in advance if your practice will offer OTC hearing aids and if you will offer services relative to OTC hearing aids. If you do plan to offer services, you should decide in advance if they will they operate under the same protocol as your regular services or have unique plans such as unbundled service options. If this is the case, there will need to be new pricing and billing practices in place. 

The good news for hearing practices is that having lower-cost options available may be exactly the push needed to get more people to start wearing hearing aids.

While the addition of over-the-counter hearing aids to the hearing care industry is a significant change, ‌it can help further the advancement of the industry overall and lead to the treatment of hearing loss and hearing care for many individuals who wouldn’t have received care otherwise.
It’s important for hearing care professionals continue providing valuable education and professional care to their patients to accompany this new technology and change.

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Sources: 1. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/fda-approves-over-the-counter-hearing-aids-for-mild-to-moderate-hearing-problems 2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536548/ 3. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/08/17/2022-17230/medical-devices-ear-nose-and-throat-devices-establishing-over-the-counter-hearing-aids