Dirty Tricks Used To Sell Hearing Aids: “White Coat Marketing” and The Phony “Research Study” Discount

You’re experiencing trouble hearing: On average it’s taken you seven years to act on it, sometimes asking your family doctor (who is often clueless), sometimes going to an ENT, and sometimes responding to a TV ad or direct mail piece to see a hearing aid dealer or audiologist. Here are two barely-ethical Dirty Tricks they use to get you to buy their often-overpriced wares — And how you can combat them.


Dirty Trick #1: White Coat Marketing by the ENT:

You finally act, get your hearing tested, either at a standalone audiologist or hearing aid dispenser, or at an ENT’s office. You’re escorted either into the Dr’s office or treatment room for the “examination,” where he comes in with his white coat. He first looks at the audiogram, then he looks in your ears (and occasionally your nose & mouth), then he looks at the audiogram again, and then he delivers the sales pitch: “see my audiologist down the hall for your hearing aids,” sometimes even walking you down the hallway where you’ll part with thousands of dollars more than you would spend elsewhere.

Dirty Trick #1A: White Coat Marketing to the Scared Mother by the pediatric ENT:

You’re a scared parent of an infant or child newly diagnosed with hearing loss, and the pediatric ENT is telling you Junior needs hearing aids as soon as possible, and to see his audiologist at once, where you’ll quickly “find a way” to part with four, five, even six thousand dollars for low-to-middle grade (usually Phonak, sometimes Oticon) hearing aids, often signing usurious Care Charge or other patient financing agreements or asking Grandma for money. For the smiling Evil Audiologist — especially ones at  “Children’s Hospital of [insert ‘City Name’ here]” or “[insert ‘Big Donor Name’ here] Children’s Hospital” — it’s like taking candy from a baby.

The way to combat this Evil AuD Dirty Trick is to ask the ENT for a prescription for the hearing aids — which ethically he must write — and once you have that, shop around. One thing Evil Audiologists are being forced to do is unbundle their services, and you can leverage this, buying the hearing aids elsewhere and have them programmed for about $200 by any audiologist — Just make sure she uses real ear measurement to get an accurate fit.

[This brings us to Costco: They sell  “locked down” Bernafon, Rexton (Siemens) and ReSound hearing aids one generation behind, and you are forced to return to a Costco that sells hearing aids for any reprogramming. However, the $1299 Phonak Brio hearing aids are the same aids as the current expensive Audeo & Bolero aids; and once purchased can be programmed by any pediatric audiologist with Target 3.3, which every hearing aid professional has loaded (or if they have an earlier Target version tell them to run the updater from the Tools menu). The problem is that Costco will not fit hearing aids to people under 18 (even though they do a good job by using real ear measurement on every fitting), so you may need to ask the store manager if you can buy the aids in the package without being fit so you can take them to your audiologist for the earmolds & fitting.]


Dirty Trick #2: The Phony “Research Study” Discount:

This trick is used by ethically-challenged “professionals” to close a sale when the consumer is negotiating for a better price: Typically after some back-and-forth the  Evil Audiologist will say “let me check if there’s a research study you can participate in;” and then he goes into the other room for a few minutes and prints out a phony “research study contract” with your name filled in. He then comes back in and says “Good news! There’s a research study you can participate in that will give you a $1000 discount” as he puts the contract in front of you to sign. But when you look closely at the contract, you’ll see no research institution or other entity named, and you’ll also see words to the effect of  “in return for this valuable renumeration we are asking you to complete the study, and if you do not, you will pay $400 in fees if you return the hearing aids” — Meaning you’re now on the hook for $400 in fees if the Evil AuD fucks up your fitting. First off, all hearing aid manufacturers give generous 60 to 90 day free return privileges to their dealers, so you should never have to pay any more than the nominal cost of the earmolds if you return the aids. If you’re offered one of these phony “research study” contracts, simply cross off the exorbitant dispensing fee; and if they don’t agree, get up & walk out — You don’t want to deal with them.

Southpark Ginger Kids episode on Hulu
Southpark Ginger Kids episode on Hulu

[This is not to condemn all research studies: One small audiology chain in Salem, Oregon that has a boutique practice of specializing in single-sided deafness uses internal studies every couple of years to determine the best CROS hearing aid for first-time and long-time users. He can be an asshole ginger to his colleagues, but he’s NOT an Evil AuD.]