Over-the-counter hearing aids improve accessibility for patients with mild to moderate hearing loss

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OTC hearing aids will be available nationwide on October 17, 2022.

About 37.5 million Americans live with hearing loss. A pair of hearing aids can cost around $2,500 per device, or a total of $5,000 for a pair of hearing aids, a cost rarely covered by insurance.

Starting October 17, 2022, OTC hearing aids will be available nationwide. These devices will only cost $500 to $1,000 per pair compared to traditional hearing aids.

Lucas A. Berenbrok, PharmD, MS, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, shared his thoughts on some of the knowledge and skills pharmacists will need to counsel patients about hearing aids in open sale at this year’s NCPA Annual Convention, held October 1-4, 2022, in Kansas City, Missouri.

In 2017, a bill introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was signed into law, creating a new category of hearing aids that were to be sold over the counter. However, these devices do not replace or replace traditional hearing aids. OTC hearing aids are designed only for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss, not for people with profound hearing loss.

Traditional hearing aids are professionally fitted to each patient and require a prescription. Over-the-counter hearing aids will not require a prescription or the administration of hearing tests or screens. With only about 14,000 audiologists nationwide, patients with mild to moderate hearing loss won’t have to worry about access to an audiologist.

“They [traditional hearing aids] are relatively inaccessible. They require a medical evaluation; you have to find an audiologist… The other thing is affordability… it’s quite expensive.

With over-the-counter availability, hearing aids will become more widely available to people with mild to moderate hearing loss who cannot afford traditional hearing aids. With an earpiece-like design, patients will be able to adjust their hearing aids on their own and avoid the stigma that comes with wearing traditional hearing aids.

“A patient can go to a pharmacy, can go to an online sales site, to an electronic store, [or] at a gas station, buy these products, put them in their ears and customize them for themselves, and start hearing better at home,” Berenbrok said.

With widespread availability, it will become increasingly important for pharmacists and audiologists to work together to steer patients on the right course of care. For example, pharmacists must be able to recognize when a patient’s hearing loss is beyond the point where an over-the-counter hearing aid will be helpful. Audiologists should be able to refer patients to a pharmacy for an over-the-counter hearing aid when appropriate.

“There are approximately 38 million people in America who have hearing loss,” Berenbrok said. “About 30 million of them [who] have hearing loss can be treated with a hearing aid, but they do not use a hearing aid. So our market here is about 30 million people who need access to hearing aids.

Drug Topics’ coverage of the 2022 NCPA Annual Convention and Expo is sponsored by Prescryptive Health.

Reference

  1. Berenbrok L. Quick Consultations: OTC Opportunities: Hearing Aids. Presented at: National Community Pharmacists Association 2022 Annual Convention; October 1-4, 2022; Kansas City, Mo.

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