October 26, 2011
Minnesota Department of Health stresses importance of seeing a hearing health practitioner if consumers are concerned about hearing loss
Not seeing a health professional before purchasing hearing aids skirts state and federal legal protections and could result in harm
Officials from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) are stressing the importance of seeing a hearing health practitioner if consumers have concerns about hearing loss. A hearing health practitioner will take a case history, visually inspect the ear, conduct hearing tests, recommend a hearing aid, or determine if the consumer should be seen by a medical specialist.
MDH has noted the increasing availability of options for purchasing hearing aids. These include using online hearing tests and purchasing hearing aids online. While consumers may be tempted to buy a hearing aid using the internet, it is not in their best health interest, and in Minnesota, only a hearing health practitioner can test hearing and recommend and fit a hearing instrument.
Hearing aids are medical devices regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must be recommended, sold and fit by qualified health professionals. This is because not all persons are assumed to be good candidates for a hearing aid. Before hearing aids can be sold to consumers, MDH and FDA laws require health practitioners to:
- Complete a case history of the consumer's hearing.
- Conduct specific hearing tests with specialized equipment.
- Visually inspect the consumer's ears and ear canal.
- Document if the consumer has recent hearing problems such as dizziness, sudden hearing loss in one or both ears and pain or drainage from the ear, and then refer to a physician when the consumer reports these conditions.
These hearing tests and evaluations are used by hearing health professionals to determine if the consumer needs to be referred to a medical doctor specializing in ear diseases.
The health professionals authorized to test human hearing and recommend and fit hearing aids in Minnesota are regulated by MDH and include:
- Licensed audiologists who have completed at least a master's degree and a supervised professional internship experience in audiology. They provide diagnostic hearing evaluations; specialize in the evaluation and rehabilitation of individuals with hearing loss; and recommend, fit and/or dispense hearing instruments.
- Certified hearing instrument dispensers who have passed a written and practical examination. They provide hearing testing and evaluations for the purpose of hearing aid recommendation, selection and fitting; and recommend, select and fit hearing instruments.
Minnesota laws also provide consumers of hearing instruments other protections, including:
- An MDH brochure describing the consumer's legal rights.
- A written purchase agreement specifying services, warranties and repair plans.
- A 45-calendar-day trial period.
- A cancellation fee of no more than $250.
- The right to take the hearing aid recommendation to an audiologist or hearing instrument dispenser of choice.
- A copy of the audiogram.
- Information from the FDA about a medical evaluation.
For more information about consumer rights when buying hearing aids, see http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/hpsc/hop/hid/consumerinfo.html.
Catherine Dittberner Lloyd
MDH Health Occupations Program