There is A LOT of bad/inaccurate information out there on this topic (among others) designed to mislead intelligent, well-researched individuals like yourself. I’d like to clear some of that up:
Audiologists diagnose and treat hearing and balance problems. We have graduate level degrees in audiology (either a Master’s or a Doctoratal degree) and we are certified by a national board of audiology whose ethical and professional standards we abide by (American Academy of Audiology, American Speech-Language Hearing Association, and Academy of Doctors of Audiology). Doctors of Audiology work closely with ear nose and throat physicians (ENTs) in our offices and/or in the community. We are educated extensively in the complex biologic system of the ear and auditory (hearing) pathway of the brain, how different hearing aids work with your auditory system, and how to program and fit hearing aids properly. Hearing aids are medical devices and we feel they should be treated as such. At most store front hearing aid dealers, audiologists are not employed; instead, hearing aid dispensers (aka hearing instrument specialists, audioprosthologists, etc.) test hearing and fit hearing aids.
Hearing aid dispensers simply have less training and often end up in the field or in jobs that are far more retail oriented than medically oriented. The hearing tests done by a hearing aid dispenser alone cannot be used for medical purposes. This is why they cannot be charged to insurance and thus, why they are “free”. A hearing test done by an audiologist is billable to insurance and Medicare and it can be used by a medical doctor to help evaluate the health of your auditory system. Your hearing loss may be caused or made worse by a medical issue that needs to be addressed before getting hearing aids.
That being said, all hearing aid dispensers aren’t “bad” and all audiologists aren’t “good”. I would shop your options, read reviews, and find the right provider for you, like you would find any other healthcare professional.
You can use one of our national academy websites to find a licensed audiologist in your area. Do note that two audiologists can be credentialed by two different academies (e.g. Fellow of American Academy of Audiology – F-AAA or Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology – CCC-A) and both be equally qualified. So, these letters (credentials) behind a name indicate a credentialed audiologist:
Clinical Doctor of Audiology:
Master’s of Science or Arts in Audiology:
Doctor of Philosophy in Audiology:
The Master’s degree in audiology is no longer available but audiologists who got their degrees 10+ years ago may have a Master’s. Both AuD’s and Master’s level audiologists have received extensive training. PhD’s typically teach at universities, do research, or play administrative roles, but some still test hearing and fit hearing aids.
Every audiologist should also have an up to date state license in audiology.
There are other reasons why I DO NOT recommend going to a big box or franchise hearing aid dispensing business aside from training requirements. They often have different business models, sales goals, and ethical standards (aside from their differences in diagnostic and clinical training) than a typical healthcare model of audiology. Like I said, not all audiologists are the cream of the crop, but I think you’ll have a better chance of being satisfied with an audiologist than a store front dispenser.
I recommend that whomever you chose fulfill the following:
1) Is able to sell more than one brand of hearing aid.
2) Will perform Real Ear testing (where a microphone is placed in the ear with the hearing aid over it to verify the proper fit) if you request it. The results of this testing can be used in a variety of ways but the person you work with should understand the value of using this.
3) Supports and empowers you to use your devices and communicate most effectively. It is not a good sign if you feel like you are working with car salesperson.
Contact me if you need help navigating hearing healthcare.