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There is a difference between an audiologist and a hearing aid dispenser. An audiologist has a doctorate and is trained to diagnose, treat and monitor disorders of the hearing and balance system. Education includes anatomy and physiology, amplification devices, cochlear implants, electrophysiology, acoustics, psychophysics, and auditory rehabilitation. Audiologists are nationally certified and must complete continuing education to maintain licensure.

A hearing aid dispenser is licensed to perform audiometric testing for the sole purpose of selling and fitting hearing aids. In order to obtain a license, hearing aid dispensers are required to pass an exam. Prior to taking the exam, certain requirements must be met, which vary from state to state. In many states, hearing aid dispensers are only required to have a high school diploma.

It’s not just about hearing aids. A good audiologist will use hearing aids as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for patients with hearing loss. Hearing aids should be selected based on the patient’s needs, objective verification measures should be completed on every patient, and aural rehabilitation needs to be a part of the process. Hearing aids DO work if they are fit properly and patients are educated about how to get the most out of them.

When and how physicians should refer to an audiologist for a hearing evaluation. Here are some suggestions:

Pediatrics: Parent concern, to document hearing loss due to middle ear fluid, risk factors for hearing loss are present, speech delay, difficulty following multistep directions (auditory), sound sensitivity, or if the patient is on ototoxic medications.

Adults: Baseline at age 50yrs is recommended, annual hearing evaluation in diabetic patients, patients with cardiovascular disease, tinnitus, sound sensitivity, history of noise exposure, ototoxic medications, and/or patient concern regarding hearing loss.

Nothing is “Free”. I cringe when I see the ads for hearing aids and “free” hearing tests. The cost of that hearing test is bundled into the hearing aid price. The same goes for “free batteries”. I believe that patients deserve transparency in pricing. That means knowing what the technology costs are and having the choice between a bundled price structure (including office visits, batteries, service) or an unbundled model. In an unbundled model, a patient may pay $100 per year in batteries. In a bundled model, a patient may pay over $1000 extra on the purchase price. That’s a lot of “free” batteries.

The one exception to my “free” rule is hearing screenings. Hearing sensitivity is so important to communication, cognitive function, overall health, mental health, and general well-being, that I will provide a hearing screening for anyone who requests it at no charge to them. It’s a way of giving back to my community and creating awareness of the role hearing plays in wellness.

My job is to make you look like a rock star. When you refer a patient, they know that you are looking at their complete health picture and that you care.

- Audiology & Hearing Services of Charlotte
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