Call to Regulate Sellers of Hearing Devices

Regarding hearing aid dispensing, health experts suggest that clinicians must be well-trained and certified for the job.

The agony of hearing-impaired patients is increased when flawed, inappropriately-tuned hearing aids are fitted on them. They are not only ineffective, but can also cause immense frustration, and may even be a health risk as it can inflict noise-induced hearing loss on the wearer.

Indeed, Dr. Euan Murugasu, consultant ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon, has gone as far as saying ‘’The wrong hearing aid or an improperly fitted one is, in a way, worse than having no hearing aid at all.’’

Consequently, the appeal of the Society for Audiology Professionals Singapore (SAPS) to the Ministry of Health for law enforcement to regulate the hearing aid industry by making sure hearing aid professionals are properly qualified is readily supported by enthusiastic doctors like him.

Further emphasis on importance of such laws was put forward by SAPS ex-president Steven Lee, who highlighted that around 360,000 people afflicted with hearing loss in Singapore makes it essential for monitoring the sale of hearing aids.

A similar set of laws like the Optometrists and Opticians Act, which requires the Opticians and Optometrists not only to be registered but also participate in courses for an up-to-date knowledge of the subject, is also needed for those dealing with hearing aids, stressed Lee.

The Ministry of Health has stated that lack of regulatory laws for the distributors of hearing aids makes it essential for those in need of it to consult an audiologist beforehand.

Audiologists are university degree graduates in the field of audiology. They are extensively trained in the science of hearing, balance and associated disorders. A large proportion of their university training is invested in the appropriate fitting of hearing aids using globally recognized clinical practice methodologies and amplification prescriptions.

Audiometrists and hearing care consultants, however, only receive informal training from the manufacturers of the hearing devices which usually last one to three months.

With more people realizing the need for hearing aids, there has been a rise in the number of shops in the country – forty outlets listed in Yellow Pages at least.

The manufacturing company offers a brief course for the retailers. Mr. Yiap Kim Hong, Senior Principal Audiologist at Jurong General Hospital, commented ‘’Yes, they may have the technical understanding of how these aids work, but not the application.’’

Dr. Murugasu stressed the importance of the type of hearing aid for different patients. A hearing aid for a completely deaf person will not work for a person who is only slightly deaf. Similarly, loud feedback noises from hearing aid can result in damage to the ear if improperly fitted and if the aid is not of the appropriate type. This would also mean wastage of money.

From her experience Mrs. Mary Teo, 22, spoke about the loss of $5000 on an inappropriate hearing aid which did not permit hearing high-pitched sounds. After great inconvenience and consultations with an audiologist and an ENT specialist, she found peace with the correct hearing aid.

Similar story of retiree B.K Tan, 79, tells of his unpleasant experience with questionable sales strategy which cost him $2000 for each of his hearing aid – now only a reminder of foolishness on his part, as he recalls. He bought another pair with actual functional capacity from a qualified practitioner.

Many shops do not offer continued service to customers, blinded by enormous profits they make off these hearing devices, Dr. Murugasu noted.

Audiologists recommend fine-tuning of hearing aids three to six months after they have been fitted, and annual reviews thereafter.

With the rising market for hearing aids, competition has also increased. Different strategies such as discounts, extra batteries and even spa treatments and other bonuses are being offered at different shops.

As many as six complaints have been reported to The Consumers Association Singapore (Case) since 2005 related to deceptive claims, hidden charges and dishonest sale schemes.

On other hand, retailers claim audiometrists and hearing care consultants are specialized to recommend suitable types of hearing aids to customers.

Ms Katherin Loh of Bay Audio (formerly Sountex) maintains that a month long training is provided to audiometrists by Siemens, while at Hearing Partners, training is done by the manufacturers and the shop’s own audiologist, said Ms. Doris Ong.

Those retailers whose audiometrists were not enlisted refused to comment on the subject.