In Audiologists or Dispensers – Part 1, we introduced corporate and professional business models for hearing health care, and indicated that the level of professional service you receive is linked directly to the business model of the hearing care provider you choose.
Audiologists or Dispensers – Part 2 details the vastly different academic and knowledge requirements for audiologists vs. hearing aid dispensers, and how these differences dictate the legal responsibilities available to each group. It should be noted that audiologists fit hearing aids just like dispensers, but they can legally do much more for your hearing health, whereas dispensers are fundamentally permitted to sell hearing aids.
Audiologists must earn a Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree. This requires 4 years of undergraduate study in Communication Sciences (speech and hearing) and an additional 4 years of specialized academic work, including high-level training in the prevention, identification, assessment, and treatment of hearing disorders.
Their extensive academic credentials, professional certifications, and licensure, allow audiologists to legally provide a full range of patient-centered care, a set of professional standards that include a thorough patient assessment, comprehensive diagnostic tests, a consultation to discuss treatment options, highly specialized hearing aid fitting and programming, and a process of post-fitting adjustments and counseling.
Profit is certainly important to independent audiologists, but it doesn’t generally dictate the patient process. Many of the diagnostic and counseling efforts that define professional standards of patient-centered care offer low-profit margins compared to hearing aid sales…but these are critical elements of comprehensive hearing care. Take away any of the links from a patient-centered chain and you also disrupt the process of end-to-end care.
Hearing Aid Dispensers
Hearing aid dispensers, (AKA hearing aid specialists) are limited primarily to hearing aid sales. They can recommend, select, or adapt hearing aids and may alter, adjust or reconstruct hearing aid specifications for functionality, such as taking ear impressions for proper fit, but hearing aid sales keep them in business. Hearing aid dispensers can sell hearing aids in many states if they have a high school diploma or GED Certificate, pass a license exam, complete a brief apprenticeship with a licensed hearing aid specialist, and earn continuing education credits (usually from correspondence courses).
Reduced standards for hearing aid dispensers have caused a rapid spread of clinics with superficially trained staff, whose primary lawful focus is limited to hearing aid sales…not audiological services.
The next and following weeks will provide the truth about dispensers, Big Box corporate culture, hearing aid franchise stores, ENT surgeons, and Online hearing aid sales. You will come to understand business models and their consequences…and you will discover that discount can be very expensive!