Hearing Care vs. Over the Counter Hearing Aids: A Consumer’s Perspective

I almost let the call go to voice mail. I was busy proof reading a piece that needed to be in the hands of an editor by the end of the day. I thought I recognized the number, though, so I took the call. I was wrong – I didn’t know the caller but when he told me why he was calling I couldn’t not continue the conversation.

The caller was looking for help for his eighty year old father who had just gotten his first pair of hearing aids. The son told me his father’s hearing aids were “tiny things,” and that he had difficulty putting them in and taking out. He was having trouble adapting to them and frustrated at his increasing inability to hear, to participate in his favorite activities.

His growing isolation resulting from his inability to talk to friends and family on the phone bore down on the whole family – recalling Dr. Mark Ross’s dictum that if one person in a family has a hearing problem, the whole family has a hearing problem.

In light of the dexterity problems I was told the father had, I suspected he had gotten over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids as those “tiny things” seemed to me to be exactly the wrong thing to fit him with. A behind-the-ear, receiver in the canal, rechargeable pair with telecoils seemed a better option. Further, I learned he knew nothing about other devices that could be of enormous help to him like a Bluetooth® transmitter or hearing loop for the TV, or a text telephone. He was not aware of the local hearing device retail shop or of the local Hearing Loss Association of America chapter where he could socialize with and learn from his contemporaries. He was living on limited income and could use some of the free equipment available to him from the state’s equipment distribution program at the Commission for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, but he knew nothing of this state agency.

He, and his family, could obviously benefit from some counseling and possibly a handout on coping strategies and the do’s and don’ts of communication for people with hearing loss. Alas and alack, while reviewing all of these things, I learned that pop’s hearing aids were not purchased over the counter, they were dispensed by a hearing care professional…

Getting Hearing Aids vs. Getting Hearing Care


Having been trained by the Hearing Loss Association of America as a Hearing Loss Support Specialist, I have spent the last twenty years counseling hard of hearing people at HLAA chapter meetings, in presentations on “Living With Hearing Loss” and other topics, and even in private one-on-one sessions. When doing so I tell people about all of the things I reviewed with the caller seeking help for his father. I tell them the things my very first hearing care provider told me in 1985 when I bought my first pair of hearing aids. At presentations and some other meetings, like the one that hearing care professional gave me, I hand out a tri-fold brochure on assistive devices that can supplement the benefits of hearing aids. Another handout is the do’s and don’ts for communication involving someone with hearing loss.

I thought about this man again while reading a magazine article focused on the provision of hearing care and discussing how audiologists and hearing instrument specialists can differentiate their business model from that of the plethora of OTC hearing aid retailers now springing up like weeds after a summer rainstorm here in the desert southwest. The old saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” came to mind. The father of the man I talked to was a prime example.

He was sold a pair of hearing aids but was he given “hearing care”? Was he told about telecoils and the many places they can be used in Albuquerque? No, even though state regulations mandate that the provider do so. Was he counseled in the devices that could supplement his hearing aids like alerting devices or apps for his phone? Not a word. Of the services of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing including a free Captel captioned phone? Doesn’t ring a bell. Of HLAAWhat’s that?

To me, hearing care should include all of that information, that’s what you’re paying for when you buy a pair of hearing aids for $3,000 that can pretty much be duplicated with a $1,200 OTC pair.

Such counseling would help build a sense of respect and gratitude in the client toward the person who helped to dramatically improve his or her quality of life. It could result in repeat business and referrals for years. Studies have shown that demonstrating how a looped TV could not just end the battle of the remote in a home, it could win a customer for life.

If you’re paying a “blue shirt” at Best Buy or the person at the prescription counter at Walgreens for a pair of over-the-counter hearing aids, you’re getting exactly what you paid for. If you’re paying a trained and licensed professional for hearing aids, it seems to me that you should also be getting hearing care that includes a lot more counseling and information than what appears in the user manual for the hearing aids you’re paying for.

May 17, 2023 By Stephen O. Frazier

How 6 hearing aid brands compare when it comes to evidence

A recent independent analysis looked at the number of freely accessible evidence available from six major hearing aid brands. The findings shed light on Phonak’s commitment to research.

How many times have we watched an advertisement and heard about how fantastic a new product is and what amazing benefits we will get from using it?

I think many of us have been drawn into making purchases based on the claims the advertisement makes, whether it be flawless skin, best taste, or longest-lasting battery. Sometimes these purchases are met with disappointment. Come on, I can’t be the only one with a collection of shampoo bottles in my bathroom, all of which said they would make my hair shiny and healthy but didn’t?!

At Phonak we are constantly innovating, and research is a key part of that. We want to make sure that our technology is backed up by evidence. This means we carry out research on our new technology to prove it does what we say it does. We want you to feel confident in the technology you are fitting to your clients.

Evidence comes in many forms

Evidence behind hearing technology can come in many forms; peer-reviewed journal articles, trade journal articles, field study articles, scientific posters… A common resource for obtaining research papers is the professional websites of hearing aid brands.

They provide quick and easy access to some of the latest findings about their technology, and clinical best practices. While easy access is very important, the quality and credibility of scientific research should also be considered. Articles published in independent journals are generally considered by the scientific community to have greater credibility weighting than white papers, which are typically researched, edited, and published by the hearing aid brand themselves.

Evidence across brands – there is a difference

An independent analysis looked into the number of freely accessible evidence available from six major hearing aid brands. It identified the total number of research papers on their professional websites plus two trade journals, Audiology Online and Hearing Review.

Out of the 229 total research papers identified across the websites and trade journals, 78 (34.1%) of these were available from Phonak (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Research papers available by hearing aid brand (2019-2022).

High quality evidence is crucial

The distinction between independent peer-reviewed journal articles and other research-related papers is important in terms of quality. In the hearing sector, independent peer-reviewed journals publish novel scientific information, subject to high levels of scientific rigor. Hence, they are regarded as providing a superior quality of research evidence than the other document types identified and counted in this analysis.

The analysis showed that Phonak had the highest number of independent peer-reviewed journals linked on its website, available to hearing care professionals (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Independent peer-reviewed and other research-related papers (grouped) available by hearing aid brand (2019-2022).

Overall, these findings suggest that Phonak offers more total research evidence for hearing care professionals than five other major hearing aid brands (through their website and two trade journals). We encourage you to read this evidence in order to feel confident about the technology you are fitting to your clients.

5 strategies for using the myPhonak Junior app to help children learn self-advocacy

Features in the myPhonak Junior app allow children to participate in their hearing healthcare with support from their parents and audiologist.

Do you have children in your practice who are learning how to manage their hearing aids?

Preparing children to advocate for their hearing needs is a process that takes place over several years. It begins early as toddlers hand their parents their hearing aid to let them know that it’s not working.

Later, as children gain dexterity, they want to learn how to put the hearing aid on themselves, and can help with simple care steps such as putting the hearing aids in the charger at night. When children enter school their advocacy needs expand, and they take on more responsibility.

Of course, children’s views about their hearing and devices should be shared freely and should be respected and given due weight given age and maturity of the child.1

There are different ways to support learning these self-advocacy skills. We recently trialed the myPhonak Junior app and believe that it can be a valuable tool in at least these five different ways:

  1. Monitor hearing aid use – the app provides average hours of daily use. Provide a goal, and children can monitor how they are doing as they work towards reaching the target number of hours. Consistent audibility is important for success in school2 and engaging children in managing use can help them practice problem-solving challenges that arise.
  2. Plan for battery charge – the app provides the percent of battery charge. Children can plan for when to charge their hearing aids to make sure the hearing aids are charged and ready for their day. Monitoring battery usage can help children learn hearing aid maintenance skills.
  3. Notice listening environments – the app includes information about noise reduction and speech focus to help children understand which environments may be difficult for them and how to adjust the speech focus slider in the app.
  4. Customize for difficult listening environments – the app allows for adjusting volume, noise reduction and microphone directionality so children can take initiative when they need to make adjustments in those environments.
  5. Learn quick tips & how to use remote support— the app provides tips for children to ensure they are maintaining their devices and learning how to troubleshoot appropriately.

Other quick tips in the app include: “How to use your hearing aid the right way”, “How to maintain your hearing aid the right way”, “Troubleshooting tips if there is no sound coming from your hearing aid”, and “Troubleshooting tips if your hearing aid whistles”.

If more help is needed, parents and children can connect to the audiologist remotely through the app for real-time support.

With our support, children can become strong self-advocates

Parents and audiologists play a critical role in supporting children in learning advocacy skills that are important for effective hearing management. This also supports the idea of Child-Centered Care (CCC) and allows the child to participate in their hearing healthcare with support from their parents and audiologist.

Learning self-advocacy is a process that works towards children being able to:3
·       Describe their own skills and needs
·       Set their own goals and create a plan to reach them
·       Know the how, who, and when to ask for assistance
·       Make decisions and then take the responsibility to deal with the consequences of them.

Resources to help you support parents and children

There are many resources available that promote advocacy.

• Hear to Learn – Help children use and care for hearing devices
• Hands & Voices – Self-advocacy for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students
• Ida Institute – Growing up with hearing loss
• Supporting Success for Children with Hearing loss – Self-advocacy skills for students with hearing loss
• Phonak – Hearing and me templates to talk about hearing loss, Guide to Access Planning (GAP) for teensSelf-advocacy checklist for teens

To learn more about the myPhonak Junior app, please visit www.phonakpro.com.

Phonak releases new Virto Paradise hearing aids

Phonak’s latest product, the Virto Paradise, is a custom-made hearing device which resembles a modern earbud. This revolutionary in-the-ear aid gives you all the benefits of the Paradise line, with customizable features and hands-free communication.

Phonak Virto Paradise

The Phonak Virto Paradise is the most recent hearing aid to join the Paradise platform. In August 2020, Paradise (P) was released for receiver in canal (RIC) wearers with the Audéo hearing aid. A year later, people with single sided deafness were able to get CROS P. Now there’s the Virto P.

The Virto P product line includes:

  • Virto P-312 (including Virto P Black)
  • Virto P-10 NWO – in the ear and invisible

Read more: Phonak announces Audeo Life waterproof hearing aids

Made for All Connectivity

The biggest difference with the Virto P 312 from other in-the-ear hearing aids on the market is that it has made for all (MFA) connectivity with two active pairings. It is actually the only Made For All [MFA] hearing aid currently available on the market. This means it offers hands-free communication.

“It is actually the only ‘Made for All’ hearing aid currently available on the market.”

“If your personal phone is an Android and your work device is iOS, you’re covered,” said Whitney Spagnola, Phonak U.S. Marketing Manager. “If you have a smart TV, Bluetooth compatible computer, an older flip phone, etc., any of these Bluetooth capable electronics can pair to your hearing aids. It may sound simple. But for hearing aid manufacturers, it’s not. The real estate of your ear is really small. As a result, it takes quite a bit of development time and forethought to provide MFA in hearing aids.”

Now with the Virto P, you can put your phone down on your kitchen island while cooking dinner and go about your various tasks all while still on the phone call. And it will be clear on both ends.


Audiologists use special software from Phonak to program hearing aids. Hearing aids are programmed by audiologists to fit the hearing loss of each individual, as everyone’s hearing is unique. Virto P brings additional customization at your fingertips via the myPhonak app,  which allows you to make your own adjustments based on the fitting provided by your audiologist. But until now, every Phonak Paradise hearing aid was built the same way and looks the same. Virto is different.

Virto P hearing aids are custom-built using special software that takes into account the patient’s individual ear anatomy. It extracts over 1,600 unique data points from the ear.

“We use this to refine the way the directional algorithms in the hearing aid help you hear,” Spagnola explained. “Each ear is unique. Look at your Grandpa’s, your nephew’s, your neighbor’s. They’re all different. The inside and outside are all there to help you hear better. And with the ear impression information, our Rapid Shell Modeling Software can actually extract your anatomical structure to change the way the device performs.”

Virto P-312

This is a fully-connected in-the-ear (ITE) hearing device that resembles a modern earbud. It can distinguish between streamed speech and music. The Virto M Black was first unveiled at CES 2020 (Consumer Electronics Show), where it received multiple awards and accolades for its “stigma-busting design that blurred the lines between a hearing aid and a hearable,” according to the Phonak press release. This is the second generation version. It comes in several colors, including the highly anticipated color of black.

Read more: Is an in-the-ear hearing aid right for me?

Virto Paradise hearing aids come in a variety of colors, accessories, and user options. They are now available in the U.S. Select markets worldwide will have them in the coming months.

Watch how a Virto P hearing aid is made (Note: this is meant for audiologists, so don’t fear the jargon!)

Holidays with Hearing Loss: 12 Tips for Families

The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year – or the most stressful! For people with hearing loss, the season’s gatherings often mean struggling to connect with friends and family through tables of competing conversations and clattering dishes.

Whether you have hearing loss or are hosting someone who does, there are a number of things you can do to help everyone stay connected during festivities. Read below for 12 survival tips guaranteed to keep the holidays merry and bright.

If you have hearing loss…

  • Wear your hearing aids, if you have them! It should go without saying, but this step is often forgotten. Also considering paying your hearing specialist a visit for a hearing aid tune-up before heading out for the holidays and be sure to bring extra batteries to all holiday events.
  • Don’t be shy about your needs. Let your loved ones know that you want to make sure you’re a part of conversations. Ask them to keep background noise such as music or television to a minimum and speak clearly.
  • Team up! Partner with a friend or relative ahead of time who can help keep you in the loop by filling you in on any bits of conversation you may miss.
  • Stay rested. It’s a lot of work trying to keep up with conversations when you have hearing loss. Be sure to get rest the day before and take a few minutes away from the crowd to refresh as needed to avoid hearing fatigue.
  • Go one-on-one.  Find chances to connect with individuals in a quiet room. Take the grandkids aside for some playtime or help the cook out in the kitchen.
  • Be strategic with your seating. Try to sit against a wall, in a position where you will be able to see as many people as possible. If you have a “good ear” position yourself to maximize its use. Seat those with quiet or high-pitched voices (such as children) closest to you.
  • Clear your view. Visual cues are critical for keeping up with the conversation, so make sure you can see everyone at the dinner table. Keep the room well-lit and remove any excessive centerpieces.
  • Go easy on yourself! Group settings are a challenging hearing situation. Even people with no hearing loss may have trouble following every conversation. Have your best holiday by having realistic expectations and celebrating the positives.

If you’re hosting a guest with hearing loss…

  • Get their attention. Before you start speaking, say the person’s name or touch their arm so they can “tune in” to what you’re saying.
  • Reduce excess noise. Turn off background noise like TV and music.
  • Speak naturally, but clearly. Shouting or over-emphasizing your words can actually make them harder to understand. Make lip-reading easier by refraining from chewing while talking.
  • Have the conversation, one-on-one. Holidays and family gatherings are often the moment when the difficulties of hearing loss become most apparent. If you’re ready to approach a loved one about treating their hearing loss, wait until after the big gathering has died down so you can talk one-on-one. Use our tips for helping a loved one with hearing loss to address the issues and see if they’ll take the first step toward better hearing through an easy online hearing test.