24/7 Service and Availability of Replacement Devices

This is the 4th part of my wishlist to audiologists and accousticians, hearing aid manufacturers, and the health care system. If you like to add something, share your experiences, or provide more information, I encourage you to submit a comment.

Audiologists and accousticians have opening hours which are not compatible with a schedule of a working person [1]. They usually open only between Monday and Friday 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and most of them are closed on Saturday, with the exception of a very few shops in very big cities. This makes it nearly impossible for me to see an audiologist without spending valuable vacation days or risking trouble with my employer.

This is especially bad, when my hearing aids break. If they break on a Friday night, I have to wait until Monday morning to see my audiologist. Most likely, he will not be able to repair it right away, but will give me a spare hearing aid, which will mostly not be of the same model as my own hearing aid. Since the settings are not compatible between different hearing aid models, those will be poorly tuned and cause me a lot of distress.

What I want is a service similar to what you can buy for your car or your computer. If my car breaks down somewhere (not even necessarily in my home country), I can call that service and they come to me, repair my car right away or bring my car to the nearest repair shop and transfer me to wherever I was going. There is no service like that for hearing aids, although I am much more dependent on my hearing aids than on my car. I would even pay for it, but so far I have not heart of any offers like that [2].

I would even be willing to give my audiological data and hearing aid setting parameters to a third party provider if in case my hearing aids are broken, they guarantee to provide me with a set of hearing aids of the same model as I usually wear tuned with my parameters within 24 hours. It would be great if that was not only available in my home country, but everywhere in the world.

[1] This might only apply to Germany, I cannot give an exhausting description for other markets. Feel free to add comments about that.

[2] I heart rumors that some vendors offer service like that, but only for some of their hearing aid models. And so far, I haven’t seen those offers.

See also the next point on my wishlist: Longer battery life and non-proprietary batteries in peripheral hardware. Or the previous one: Seamless compatibility between hearing aids and peripheral hardware to consumer electronics.

4 thoughts on “24/7 Service and Availability of Replacement Devices

  1. I am slowly working through your points; this is the one with which I disagree most strongly, so I’m addressing it first. It’s a nice idea but I suspect there are globally too few hearing-aid wearers for it to be profitable.

    Hearing aids are directly analogous with glasses in this instance. One needs to be careful with both glasses and hearing aids, for exactly the same reasons; they are expensive, breakable devices integral to comfortable living. Anyone who has worn glasses for more than a few years will have a backup pair. At present, having worn hearing aids for 18 years, I have 2 spare pairs, one of which works well. I also have at least two spare pairs of earmolds.

    If you are needing frequent repairs to your hearing aids, I wonder about the quality: in those 18 years, I can think of only 3 times when I had an emergency repair which meant I was without my current pair of hearing aids for more than the trip to the audiologist. Once was an ear horn which shattered in the cold, once was to have sand removed, and once was when some of the electronics failed–those hearing aids were 8+ years old!

    I believe that under German Disability Law you cannot be penalized by your employer for required medical treatment due to a recognized handicap; hearing aid repair would certainly fall into this category. This is certainly true in the US and UK.

    Finally, anyone wearing hearing aids ought to have coping skills for when they are unavailable, be those lipreading/sign language, knowledge of the limits of one’s unassisted hearing and how to position yourself to best hear in a multitude of environments, what voices you will able to hear most easily unassisted, etc. Do you really want to depend entirely on a bit of electronics?

    In the UK, for the record, NHS-supplied hearing aids are repaired as quickly as you can get an appointment (there are emergency slots) and there is a minimum of one drop-in clinic a week at any audiology office for “simple” repairs. In the US it will depend very much on your health care situation.

  2. Thanks for your comment!

    I agree, that probably the market for this is too small, but mostly because the general hearing aid market is too small.

    Still I think it is a serious problem. Of course you have spare hearing aids lying around when you have been hearing-impaired for a couple of years. But what about the others? I am still wearing my first hearing aids and in Germany, you only get new ones every 5 to 6 years. That means that the first 5 years, which are also the hardest to accommodate to the fact that you are hearing-impaired, you don’t have any backup.

    In addition, many people might have progressing hearing conditions. In my case, my current hearing aids are already on the limit on how much they can amplify. My next pair of hearing aids must definitely be of a more powerful model. Once I will get used to the next one, I am sure it will be similarly disturbing to switch back to the old and weaker hearing aids as it is to some random and poorly fitted hearing aid.

    I am wearing my hearing aids for about 4 years now and during that time they were broken 4 times. I hope I did not choose particularly low-quality ones. They are Siemens Pure 700 and they cost about 2500 EUR each. I also dry them every night, thus I doubt that it is my fault that they break. Maybe I am just unlucky and got a shitty pair of those hearing aids, but I have no other experiences that I could compare to.

    The last time my hearing aids broke was on a Friday night before the Saturday when I wanted to celebrate my 30th birthday. I had invited lots of friends and I was very unhappy that I had to wear poorly fitted replacement hearing aids on my own party. Of course hearing aids always break at the most inconvenient time and I would rather not make them ruin the coolest events of my life.

    The German disability law pretty much sucks in the case of hearing problems. First of all, I am not even a “recognized disabled person” yet. You need a pretty profound loss of hearing to get the certification, although you might already have serious problems in your social and professional life long before you reach that kind of bad hearing. Since my hearing loss is getting worse, I applied for this certification now but I haven’t gotten any answer yet. My chances to get it are good according to my doctors, but only because I have another medical condition.

    With that in mind, I am not a recognized disabled person yet. That creates some kind of corner case for my employer and my insurance company. I could probably push it with the risk of loosing my job and suing my company to get it back afterwards. But that is certainly not what I want to go through. Also here, I asked several acousticians and audiologists, doctors and insurance company clerks and none of them could give me a definite answer. It seems that all people manage by taking vacation or appointments in the later afternoon so that it does not interfere with their working hours. So basically everyone seems to kind of circumvent the problem by sacrificing their free time for their disability instead of getting support from the authorities.

    Regarding lip-reading and other workarounds: of course I have picked up some of that over the years, but in contrast to you I did not start with that when I was a child. It is much harder for me to compensate my hearing loss without hearing aids. I would certainly like to be not that dependent on a bit of electronics, but I cannot help it. Also, I think I am still kind of lucky, I might not be a child anymore, but I am still young compared to many other people who start wearing hearing aids. But still, I’d love to be less dependent on my hearing aids. In that context,

    I welcome the fact that our communications get more and more computer aided and text based. In my job I luckily rarely have to use the telephone, because my colleagues prefer to text-chat and email anyway. I don’t even have a phone on my desk anymore, which is a great plus for my job.

  3. Siemens are so poorly thought of in the UK that most NHS audiology clinics (which get hearing aids in bulk, at a massive discout) no longer stock or prescribe them. I hated the one pair I had so much it took 8 fittings to get them useable, and certain problems we never did sort out.

    Speaking of assumptions — despite being hearing impaired from birth I don’t lipread. After 6 years of training, my hearing therapist concluded that I scored as poorly on the lipreading tests as I had when I started, and concentrated on other adaptive skills.

  4. I am an audiologist with normal hearing.

    Siemens are hearing aid of choice for Australia’s government system (equivalent to NHS). Before you suggest Australia is small player on a global scale the government contract is the third largest in the world behind America’s Veterans service and the NHS, we fit free/subsidised devices to pensioners and children/young adults under the age of 26. We are also responsible for a lot of the research that audiologists around the world use to prescribe and setup hearing aids (National Acoustics Laboratories / NAL).

    Helga – the Pure 700 is a high quality device which will serve you well for some time. I’d like to inform you that as a receiver in the canal (RIC) device it is extremely flexible in terms of power and can actually be easy to repair yourself.

    If your audiologist tells you that your hearing aid is at the limit of it’s power they are lying – ask for a stronger receiver. Based on your presentation I can see you have an ‘S’ receiver; there are two stronger receivers available for your model, M (medium 55dB) and P (power 65dB) and they can be easily fitted to your current model. This is not so for all hearing aids, if you run out of power on a standard BTE you cannot just upgrade an internal component, you need a completely new, stronger hearing aid.

    The other thing I like about the Pure is that the receiver is easily changed. As the receiver is one of the most common parts of the hearing aid to break down being able to change it quickly and easily is a big bonus of the design. If you are so concerned about the hearing aid breaking down out of hours perhaps you should purchase a few spare receivers, either from your audiologist or online (ebay sellers stock them) so at least if your hearing aid goes down you can try replacing the receiver. Please note you will need to buy the same power matrix – if you purchase and fit an M receiver and your hearing aid has been set as an S receiver it needs to be reprogrammed otherwise the response of the aid will be incorrect.

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