Independent retailers best for buying hearing aids
Hearing aids can be expensive to buy, so it is useful to know what to look out for when buying hearing aids. In Ireland, medical card holders are entitled to free hearing aids from the Health Service Executive (HSE). But the majority of Ireland’s 250,000 adults with significant hearing loss must purchase their own hearing aids.
Which? is a UK consumer champion, and last year we reported on their survey of members who bought heairng aids from retailers in the UK. These retailers included Amplifon, Hidden Hearing and Specsavers, all of whom sell hearing aids in Ireland. The survey also included Boots Hearing Care who presently do not sell hearing aids in the Republic of Ireland. Now Which? have repeated their survey in 2016, and here we report the key findings.
Again in 2016 Which? found that Local Independent Retailers were rated highest across all categories of the survey, including appointment/waiting times, products and pricing, staff service and facilities. While Hidden Hearing were rated lowest in 2014, this time Amplifon got the lowest ratings.
How customers rate private hearing aid retailers:
Hearing Aid prices
Which? found that the highest average price paid for a pair of hearing aids was €3,784 with Local Independent Retailers, even though this sector also achieved the highest rating for products and pricing. The average price paid ranged from €3,784 to €1,903 (see Table 2).
Which? also provided average price ranges for the different levels of hearing aid technology (Table 3). This shows that a big factor in the cost is the level of hearing aid technology. The level of technology a person may need will largely depend on their lifestyle, and to some extent on the level of their hearing loss. A person who spends most of their time at home will not normally need the same level of technologyas a person who works in a busy environment, goes to a lot of meetings and has a busy social life.
Which? point out that there is ‘a huge variation’ in hearing aid prices, so they say it is worth getting quotes from multiple retailers. They point out that the price includes an ongoing service – so price should be just one factor to consider.
Which? suggest a number of tips when buying hearing aids, including: finding out exactly what is included in the price; when follow up appointments occur and who they will be with; if you are purchasing the latest range of aids; and details of any trial period or money back guarantee.
Which? review of Local Independent Retailers
Local Independent Retailers achieved the highest customer rating at 83%. Although they had the highest average price paid by customers, they still had the highest ratings across all categories.
Which? point out that it is ‘crucial’ to choose a trusted retailer. They say that ‘the difference between a good or a bad hearing aid is not usually the aid itself, since most hearing aids are made by just a handful of manufacturers. It’s more the professional fit and service given by the provider that matter more.’
Which? found that 20% of the customers of Local Independent Retailers felt under some pressure to select a more expensive option, but this was actually lower that other providers.
Overall, Local Independent Retailers were again rated well ahead of other providers.
Which? review of Specsavers Hearing Centres
Specsavers achieved a customer satisfaction rating of 68%. They had a three star rating across all categories, making them ‘resolutely average’ according to Which?
Which? state that they ‘are pleased that Specsavers now publishes its hearing aid prices online, so that customers can find it easier to research what’s on offer in a market that can be confusing, as price is bundled with service.’
Some Specsaver customers remarked that there was a lack of continuity in staff from appointment to appointment, and that sometimes perseverance was required: ‘When listening to the television and sometimes when talking to people, it sounded as if they had a lisp. It took several visits to the audiologistr to convince them to make the necessary changes to get rid of this defect.”
Which? review of Hidden Hearing
Hidden Hearing achieved a customer satisfaction rating of 67%, which was a 5 point improvement on the previous Which? survey.
However, Hidden Hearing customers were the most likely to report feeling under pressure to select a more expensive product at 35%, which is almost twice the rate for customers of Local Independent Retailers.
Many reported that they received a good service and a quick reponse for replacement batteries or disposable parts. Some commented on high pricing: ‘I suspect I could have paid less elsewhere’.
Which? review of Amplifon
Amplifon scored the lowest of the providers in the survey. While they got an above average rating for facilities, appointments, staff and service, they scored lower for products and pricing. This category covers the range of hearing aids provided, transparency of pricing, clarity of information and time given to decide on products.
Also, 31% of Amplifon customers felt under pressure to select a more expensive option. Which? says there were some reports of more expensive pricing: ‘value for money rated fair, but only because I was insistent and pushed very hard to get a substantial discount.’
Buying hearing aids in Ireland
At present there are no Standards for the dispensing of hearing aids in Ireland, so the customer has limited protection.
The good news is that key stakeholders, (HSE, Irish Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists, Irish Academy of Audiology and DeafHear), are presently conducting a consultation on draft Best Practice Guidelines for the dispensing of hearing aids, and hopefully these will be adopted in the near future.
In the meantime, DeafHear’s clear advice is if you suspect you may have a hearing loss, don’t ignore it! Many people delay addressing their hearing loss for years, and has having a negative impact on their quality of life and even on the health of their brain! Don’t allow this to happen to you! Which? reported that while 8% of their members have hearing aids, a further 17% said they have a hearing loss but had done nothing about it!
If you suspect that you may have a hearing loss, you should first of all visit your GP, as the difficulty may be due to something as simple as a blockage of earwax. But if the indications are that you may have a hearing loss, you should make arrangements to have your hearing assessed as soon as possible. Medical card holders should get a referral letter to HSE audiology services from their GP. If you don’t have a medical card, you should consider getting your hearing assessed privately.
*Next week we will report on a comparison between the NHS and private providers of hearing aids that Which? completed in late 2016.
“Many hearing aid providers offer free hearing tests, but that doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed a good service” says Brendan Lennon, DeafHear’s Head of Advocacy. “We encourage people to choose their hearing aid provider carefully and to shop around. If you can, bring a relative or friend with you to ensure you are not pressured to purchase before you are fully satisfied. I would advise anyone considering buying hearing aids to read our leaflet ‘A guide to buying hearing aids’.
If you think you may have a hearing loss,
consider getting a hearing test as soon as possible!
For more information, visit www.mindyourhearing.ie
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