This is an example of the not-factual media articles I blog and write about. Ravenscraft (2019) couldn’t have used an audiologist as a source. Because his New York Times article “The medical tech that helps you…” covers hearing aids with no speech-in-noise technology. Hearing aids classified as consumer products – not medical devices.
Don’t let the Eargo Plus hearing aids new website, marketing, and technical specs fool you. Noise reduction is a required processing feature to lower static. The only hearing aid features that help speech-in-noise are directional microphones and telecoils. The Eargo Plus doesn’t have either.
Too bad the New York Times didn’t cover a low cost no prescription hearing aid company with product that includes basic required communication features.
This article shares the urban legend that 2 hearing aids cost about $5,000. And yes, people need a pair of hearing aids just like people need a pair of glasses (with a few medical exceptions). Hearing aids come in low, mid, and high end price ranges. Consumers can get no prescription or prescription low end hearing aids—with required communication features—starting around $1,000. Lower cost prescription rental hearing aids are also hitting the market at hearing healthcare clinics in Canada.
Too bad the article didn’t mention the important issue of universal hearing healthcare that would provide basic hearing aids with speech-in-noise tech to everyone who needs them.
It perpetuates the myth that no prescription hearing aids work as advertised: 66% – 83% of no prescription hearing aids fail independent testing (e.g. Smith 2016). Problems include high static, distorted sound and speech, too loud, no amplification, and volume controls didn’t work. This is a systemic manufacturing defect rate in the over-the-counter hearing aid manufacturing industry. Too many companies with poor manufacturing and poor quality control.
There’s no independent testing on the Eargo Plus. It’s digital processing system might work fine. It might meet international standards for static, distortion, gain, and output. But it’s missing the directionality needed for sound quality and communication in background noise, e.g. family dinner, cafe, restaurant, walking down sidewalk. As an audiologist for the past 30 years, I have always recommended people spend their money on hearing aids with directionality (directional microphones). And telecoils to access communication in public spaces, e.g. government buildings, London taxis, places of worship, etc.
The Big Six
There’s a reason the big 6 hearing aid manufacturers make up 98% of the worldwide hearing aid market. Because their product must meet international quality assurance standards to be classified as medical devices. Because their product has basic communication features that help with speech-in-noise. These reputable companies have been manufacturing hearing aids for decades. Based on decades of science, their hearing aids have the latest tech and features. Their hearing aids work as advertised. No systemic manufacturing defects and good quality control. Consumers like their product and become repeat customers.
It’s strange that a small number of car manufacturing companies make up the majority of the worldwide car market and nobody cares. Ford, Chevy, Volkswagen, Porsche, Honda, Toyota, and so on. These companies have been manufacturing cars for decades and have the latest tech and features. If new car companies were suddenly allowed to sell cars with no regulatory oversight, I think people would care. Do basic required features like the brakes and air bags work? The government isn’t checking. Just trust the new low cost car manufacturer.
When it comes to purchasing a hearing device, the brand name is a more important decision than it is when purchasing your paper towels. After all, this device is going to be used for daily communication, and that’s a big deal!”
Dr. Lindsey Banks, Au.D (2017)
Eargo is one of the new hearing aid company start-ups that skipped a costly FDA medical device process required for hearing aid manufacturers in the past. This is possible thanks to the Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 introduced by the current U.S. Federal government.
In his article The myth of OTC hearing aids (2017), Mr. Stephen Posiack—president of the American Consumer Institute—called the OTC Hearing Aid Act of 2017 “ crony capitalism”. Because it didn’t benefit consumers to change hearing aids from an FDA approved medical device into a consumer product sold over the counter. It only helped some new start-up companies skip the time and money that used to take for hearing aid companies.
I wish journalists would do more research before writing articles about hearing healthcare. There are a lot of serious issues happening now that consumers need to know about. When highly respected media like the New York Times misses key facts about no prescription hearing aids, it’s a serious problem. Adult consumers with mild hearing loss need the facts when they’re looking for low cost options to help them hear AND communicate better, even in difficult listening situations.
My blog post with a complete review of the Eargo Plus for people with tinnitus-hyperacusis is in progress.
Jan L. Mayes
Author, audiologist, educator, noise activist, bookworm, playing with words.