Dear Lipreading Mom,
Many consumers who have sudden hearing or progressive hearing loss, like myself, may need to find an audiologist they can trust quickly. There are some websites, blogs, and videos, but where do you begin your search? In my situation, I lost my hearing suddenly so I needed to get some sort of hearing instrument as soon as possible. I have gone from moderate to severe hearing loss to pretty much profound within the past five months. My audiologist, who I purchased hearing aids from that are no longer able to help me, is not sure what to do. I know that if I switch audiologists I am looking at possibly having to buy a new hearing aid contract with that audiologist since that is how they make their money, correct? My question is: What can I do to find an audiologist who will be able to help me adequately---and not just someone who will try to sell me another expensive hearing aid?
Desperately Seeking a New Audiologist
(LIPREADING MOM'S NOTE: To answer this question, I asked Kristen Kramer, an audiologist in St. Louis, Missouri, for her insight.)
Dear Desperately Seeking,
I completely understand and sympathize with your situation of losing your hearing suddenly and needing to find a professional you trust quickly.
In your audiologist's defense he/she nor I have any idea what the future holds for your and any of our patients' hearing losses. Most patients lose their hearing slowly over time. Even in the situation of a sudden hearing loss, it is not very common to see a moderate hearing loss drop to profound hearing loss within a few months with no recovery from medical intervention. Professionals are often recommending a product that will have some room to be increased should your hearing get worse, however, we cannot account for sudden or unusual changes in hearing such as yours.
Are you sure the aids are maxed out? Are they receiver in the canal aids and perhaps a stronger receiver can be attached to the aid to make it more powerful? Could your earmolds be made to fit deeper into your ear canal so you can get more amplification due to the sound being closer to the eardrum? Can you try a libby horn tubing to try to increase access to high frequency sounds? Are your earmolds vented and would closing the vents, a tighter/deeper fitting earmold, a soft material earmold help get more amplification out of your current aid?
Every patient is entitled to a second opinion. If you feel there is something further the audiologist you are seeing has not provided or something different you would like to try. I would suggest openly communicating that to your audiologist. Ask them his/her opinion on the idea. Do they have a legitimate reason for being for/against the idea? Are they willing to try the idea or not?
I would encourage you to seek a second opinion from another audiologist. In your unique situation you need a professional that has the appropriate educational background to know when to refer you to a physician, etc. There are a lot of hearing instrument specialists (as well as audiologists I am sure) who are mostly interested in selling hearing aids and not necessarily in proper patient care. In many states there is minimal educational background required to sell hearing aids under the title of hearing instrument specialist (some it is a minimal of high school diploma or an associates degree, which doesn't even have to be in anything hearing related). Where can you find a qualified professional? I would suggest looking at a University Hospital, in particular a university that has an Au.D. program. There are also some Ph.D. audiologists who may have more educational background to help you in your unique situation. Unfortunately not very many Ph.D. Audiologists practice clinically, as they are usually more involved in teaching at the graduate level and doing research. The advantage of seeking help from a university clinic would be perhaps they have a clinical study going on and they may compensate you for your participation in the study by giving you hearing aids for free or at a significantly reduced rate.
You are right that most audiologists make their money on the sale of the hearing aids. However most of us do have the situation occur where someone has moved from out of state and needs someone to assist them with their hearing aids. Many audiologists have a sort of fee schedule set up for those types of situations. So if you are wanting a second opinion you may want to call first and get an idea of the charge for the appointment will be. Many insurance companies don't cover hearing aid visits. If you get a second opinion and that audiologists seems to be in agreement that your current aids are maxed out and they are only a year old, perhaps you can work out a deal with your current audiologist if you buy a second set of aids to get them at cost or slightly above since you in essence have "paid" the service fee with the purchase of the first set of hearing aids. Just a thought.
You seem to have the right idea you are "shopping" for an audiologist, not shopping for the best deal on a hearing aid. Most audiologists and hearing aid dealers are following a bundled service model in which they include their services for a certain length of time with the price of the hearing aid. Hearing aids are different in that there are a number of programming adjustments that are possible. Proponents of the "bundled" approach feel that many patients would not come into the office for needed minor appointments if they had to pay for every visit. Proponents of the "unbundled" approach tend to feel that those patients that are needier and in the office more often should have to pay for the extra level of care they demand, and patients that only come in once a year should not have to, so the unbundled approach lets you pay per visit per se.
Kristen Kramer, Au.D., CCC-A, Audiologist
Sound Audiology - Midwest Head and Neck Surgery Division, St. Louis, Missouri
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Shanna Groves was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss after the birth of her first child. She was 27. Raised in a hearing family, Shanna traces her hearing loss to a genetic loss on the paternal side of her family. She is mom to three young children, a published author, and speaker. Her books are featured at www.ShannaGroves.com. Shanna blogs about being a hard of hearing mom at http://LipreadingMom.com.