When over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids became available last October, there was a list of concerns about the extent of their viability. While typically cheaper than traditional hearing aids, there were consumer-facing concerns like return policies, warranties, and the transparency of the ifs, ands, or buts a manufacturer shares with a potential buyer.
But, the biggest concern expressed by hearing professionals who ConsumerAffairs consulted was the fact that OTCs were “self-fitting” – in other words, the consumer was in charge of determining their hearing loss and not a professional audiologist.
Dr. James Naples, a professor at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said that like buying a pair of readers at the drugstore, OTC hearing aids are more “one size fits all” than designed to correct an individual hearing problem.
"[Magnifying readers] are designed to correct a specific type of vision problem. Depending on your eyesight, they may only help so much," Naples said. "OTC hearing aids may have similar limitations."
Seeking an objective answer on determining hearing loss
To circumvent that perception, some manufacturers created their own online gizmos that would, supposedly, give some a clearer idea of how good or bad their hearing loss was. But, again, how one person qualifies what they’re hearing is totally subjective and different from how another person would frame their perception.
After months of watching how consumers approached the new OTC option, the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) decided to find a better solution. Its answer is the new “Take 3 for Me Hearing Challenge.”
Instead of using sounds louder and softer sound, the 3-Minute Challenge uses a modified version of the Hearing Handicap Inventory, a screening that can probably get to the heart of what someone is actually feeling in certain situations.
As a hearing loss expert, Dr. Barbara E. Weinstein, professor and founding executive officer of the Health Sciences Doctoral Programs at the Graduate Center, CUNY, told ConsumerAffairs that a screener like HIA’s Take 3 is the “single greatest factor” when it comes to leading someone to their eventual purchase and successful use of hearing-aids.
“[It] is the perceived difficulty the person reports, not the severity of the hearing impairment measured by listening to tones of different pitches and loudness levels,” she said.
Weinstein continued to hammer home the importance of taking subjectivity out of the mix, emphasizing that the responses in a test like Take 3 capture the degree of difficulties someone experiences in everyday communication like at a restaurant or in conversations with friends or family.
“Subjective rating of auditory well-being, based on responses to the questions, is superior to reliance on pure-tone audiometry to document hearing-related difficulties,” she said.