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Independent Hearing Clinics, Chains, Warehouse Clubs and Online Hearing Aids – What’s the Difference?

Independent Hearing Clinics, Chains, Warehouse Clubs and Online Hearing Aids – What’s the Difference?

In recent years, hearing aids have become available in more and more places, and may soon be available without a prescription.  They recently became available over the counter (OTC) in the United States, which is why you may be seeing them for sale online.

OTC Hearing Aids

It’s important to understand that OTC hearing aids have not yet been approved by Health Canada, and it is illegal for them to be sold online and shipped to Canada. While these online hearing aids may seem like a deal, they may actually be more harmful to your hearing, and do not come with any ongoing service, ear examination, or medical advice.

Stores or Warehouse Clubs

Another low-cost option for hearing devices is big box stores, or warehouse clubs. These stores offer the same hearing aids as any hearing clinic, but under different brand names, for a lower price. The quality of the hearing aids themselves is the same as you will get in a traditional clinic, and they are dispensed by qualified audiologists.  One downside here is you need to have a membership in order to purchase hearing aids at these clubs, and not everyone enjoys the driving, parking and shopping experience of the crowded warehouses.  Another factor to consider is that large corporations will always have aggressive sales targets, and appointments that generate revenue are prioritized over service, adjustments or other no-charge customer appointments.  Hearing aid repairs can take months to complete if they were purchased at a warehouse club.

Hearing Healthcare Providers

The best way to ensure the highest quality of care and attention is still seeing a hearing healthcare provider at a dedicated hearing health clinic.  There are two main types of hearing clinics you will find in most towns; independent clinics and chains.  Again, the hearing aids available are the same everywhere – there are 6 main manufacturers sold in North America, so what differentiates a clinic is not the product.  It’s the people and the quality of care they provide.  A little known fact is that the national chains are owned by the hearing aid manufacturers, and like the warehouse clubs, they have sales quotas their staff must attain.  Service appointments are limited and often rushed, and you will always be encouraged to purchase their hearing aid brand, whether it is ideal for your hearing loss or not. Because of these quotas and the pressure to sell, staff turnover in the chain clinics is high, and a common concern is that clients see a different person every time they visit

An independent clinic can be the best option if quality care is your priority.  They usually focus on the hearing healthcare more than the device, and when a hearing aid is appropriate, they can be objective in which one to recommend.  Most independent clinics have long-standing staff or are family-run, and take the time to build relationships with their clients. They have the flexibility to offer discounts and payment plans, and are quick to respond when a problem arises. Independent clinics are more likely to be owned by an audiologist, or have audiologists on staff, which means they can provide a broader spectrum of services than Hearing Instrument Specialists, like tinnitus therapy, balance, auditory processing disorders, and pediatric hearing care.

In short, your hearing healthcare is not about a device.  The hearing aid is a tool in the treatment of your hearing loss, but the professional care and ongoing service are the most important (and most valuable!) considerations.


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