On March 6, 2013 The New York Times ran the second in a series of Q&A pieces with Neil J DiSarno, chief staff officer at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The series of articles addresses topics of interest from hearing aid prices to new hearing aid technologies. In this article Mr. DiSarno recommended that consumers avoid buying hearing aids online.

We have assessed Mr. DiSarno’s reasons for warning against online hearing aid purchasing, and we agree with each of them – which is why we designed Embrace Hearing to sidestep each potential issue with online purchasing.

While Mr. Disarno acknowledges that purchasing online can reduce hearing aid costs and provide consumers with convenient options, he warns that:

“A hearing aid is a complex medical device, not a simple sound amplifier”

We agree – that’s why we sell state-of the art hearing aids directly comparable to hearing aids sold by audiologists

Hearing aids have digital technology that can be set by an audiologist to meet your personal hearing needs”

We agree – that’s why our 100% Board Certified specialists program each set of hearing aids to our customers’ individual hearing loss profiles, based on a combination of their hearing test results, and any specific customer requests

“Hearing aid bought online without a complete hearing test and other necessary hearing therapy/treatment services may not meet your needs”

We agree – that’s why we require that each customer undergo a professionally administered hearing test, prior to ordering hearing aids online

“Setting hearing aids for your needs requires specific computer software that audiologists may not have access to if the devices were bought online. For some online businesses, getting the hearing aid settings changed may only be possible by shipping the hearing aid back to the manufacturer, which means you will have to go without your hearing aid for a while.

We agree – that’s why we will supply the necessary software to any audiologist who doesn’t already have access. We do offer by-mail reprogramming – for free – because some customers prefer the flexibility of not paying for adjustments, and not having to make an in-person appointment. We also support customers who seek in-person adjustments, and will even work to facilitate these in-person visits (though we don’t receive any fee for doing so).

Online hearing screens cannot tell you the cause of hearing loss — the cause may be something as minor as too much earwax or as serious as a brain tumor.

We agree – that’s why we require every customer to undergo a professionally administered hearing test, prior to buying hearing aids online

The F.D.A. strongly recommends that you see a physician to rule out medical causes of hearing loss before buying hearing aids. If your doctor determines your hearing loss is not medically treatable, ask to be referred to a licensed audiologist to see if you are a candidate for hearing aids.

We agree – We require each customer who buys hearing aids online to submit a waiver that acknowledges understanding of the F.DA.’s recommendation.

Audiologists are professionals who can provide adjustment and programming of the devices, counseling, hearing training and support when you obtain hearing aids from them. Hearing aids bought online do not include these services

We agree – however we believe that the model of “bundling” hearing aids and follow-on services serves no purpose except to obfuscate the true costs of the product and the service, and allow audiologists to charge more for the services than they would be able to, if they charged on an easier-to-understand visit-by-visit basis. We'll go into more detail on the price of hearing aid follow-on services in a future entry.

Mr. DiSarno has assembled a number of convincing reasons to avoid many online hearing aid vendors. However, we believe strongly that none of these reasons applies to Embrace Hearing.

We do not believe all consumers should buy hearing aids online. But we do believe strongly in consumer choice, and we  believe that customers can evaluate for themselves the wisdom of paying $5,000+ for hearing aids in person or $1,000 - $2,000 online, for near-identical devices.

Finally, we believe that since 27 million Americans are living with untreated hearing loss, the legacy distribution system of brick & mortar audiologist practices is failing many of the people it is theoretically supposed to help -- largely because the inefficiencies of running individual practices with high fixed costs forces audiologists to charge through the nose, pricing millions of consumers out of the market.