Can You Hear Me Now?

Hearing loss is a critical public health issue. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published their results on how to make hearing health care more accessible and affordable. The barriers: a poor awareness of hearing loss in society, limited access to hearing solutions, high out of pocket costs, and limited assisting devices.

Hearing loss is often perceived by health care professionals and society as a part of aging that is inevitable, although recent evidence shows the negative effect hearing loss has on mental, social, and physical functions. Few adults with hearing loss understand all their options, believing that expensive hearing aids are the only treatment available.

Primary care physicians need to know how to approach hearing loss and patient concerns, while hearing health care professionals must provide comprehensive care. Community health workers and telehealth also increases access and complements the clinic-based medical model.

The accessibility of hearing health care services for adults in the U.S. is inadequate. Not all of the 30 million adults with hearing loss require the services of a professional. The committee stated that the current regulations preventing over-the-counter sales of hearing aids and requiring a medical examination before purchase are unnecessary. The Academies recommend the FDA create a new device category for wearable hearing devices to be available over-the-counter as an alternative model of hearing loss treatment.

Hearing aids are limited by the quality of the incoming sound. Noisy environments can be challenging to listen in. Developing a wireless connection between hearing aids and other devices (like smartphones and the sound systems in theaters) could improve the incoming sound quality and could be understood by the patient.

Hearing aids and other services by audiologists are excluded from Medicare Part B and most other insurance. Only the VA, some state Medicaid programs, and some third-party payers cover it. Patients pay an average $4700 for bilateral hearing aids. This is unaffordable to many people with hearing loss. When hearing health professionals provide transparent pricing, patients understand the value of the treatments vs the cost of the actual hearing aid and can make an informed purchasing decision.

With a rapidly aging population, promoting healthy aging is critical. Technological advances with consumer electronics and wearable devices has set the foundation for hearing technology to complement traditional clinic-based hearing loss treatment. All of these ideas can bring more affordable and accessible hearing health care to the adults of America.

Lin MD, Frank, Hazzard MD, William, and Blazer MD, Dan. “Priorities for Improving Hearing Health Care for Adults.” Viewpoint. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2 Jun 2016. Web. 12 Jun 2016.

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