How can you tell the difference? To the untrained eye they may look the same. A pretty, young lady wearing a white coat tests your hearing and provides recommendations regarding the sort of technology that might help you hear better. You place your order, and when the hearing aids come in, the same lady connects them to a computer and makes some adjustments you don’t understand. You leave the office with whatever instructions your provider cares to give you and you’re off on your new hearing adventure.
Time out. Back the truck up. You should have asked some questions first.
“What sort of training do you have?” “How long have you been fitting hearing aids?” “Can you recognize medical symptoms that should lead me to a physician rather than to hearing aids?” These are good for a start because they’ll generate more questions. (That gives me an idea for another blog entry!)
In most states, a hearing aid dealer can be licensed to practice simply by passing a written exam and a practical exam given by the state licensing board. All audiologists learn what is necessary for those two exams in the first half of the first semester, of their first hearing aid course. At least that’s the way it was at San Diego State University. A licensed audiologist has, at a minimum, a masters degree that covers at least two years of post-graduate coursework related to the ear, hearing, and balance. A nine-month, post-grad fellowship followed this coursework. In recent years, the requirement has been upgraded to a doctorate as the entry level. Last I checked, there was still some conflict in the audiology community regarding what should be added to masters-level coursework, but there are numerous, flourishing programs.
Differences in education between an audiologist and a hearing aid dealer were brought to the fore in a recent public forum. A local hearing aid dealer was presenting a talk at a senior center and I went to listen. The presentation was quite basic and was suited to the audience, however, there were numerous places where better, more accurate information could have been presented. At one point, for example, the benefits of candling to remove ear wax were asserted. The research does not support such assertions.
The bottom line is (and I’m showing my bias here, but I believe it’s a reasonable bias) go to an audiologist who has hearing aid fitting experience and who uses Real Ear measures to evaluate the fitting.