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There are a lot of important questions that you need to ask your hearing care professional before deciding to purchase hearing aids from them. Do you do speech and noise testing? How much do these hearing aids cost? Are you bundled or unbundled? Do you perform subjective outcome measures? Do you perform real ear measures? However, the single most important question that you could ask is not what you think.
Ultimately, there is one question that is, perhaps, even more important than these questions and that is, are your hearing aids locked?
Locked Hearing Aids
What do I mean by locked? Basically, a locked hearing aid is a hearing aid that can only be programmed and adjusted by the place that you purchased it from, or one of their affiliates. This is how it works.
A hearing aid dealer, or a place that you go to get hearing aids, will contract with a major hearing aid brand manufacturer and get their hearing aids, but they will have them private-labeled to that clinic’s name or to their own proprietary brand name. No big deal, right? I mean, you’re getting the exact same hearing aid, it just has a different name, who cares?
Well – not so fast! In this process, a lot of times, they will actually make it where the computer chip inside of the hearing aid can only be accessed through the programming software of the company that they’re private labeling it for. This is basically locking anyone else out from being able to program and adjust these hearing aids. That is a locked hearing aid.
The Risks of Buying a Locked Hearing Aid
So why is this even a big deal? Well, if you end up moving or the clinic that you got your hearing aids from goes out of business, your options for where to take your existing hearing aids will be extremely limited. If you’re lucky enough to find a clinic that works with your locked hearing aids, then you really have to cross your fingers and hope that the hearing care provider that works there is a good one. Whereas, if you had hearing aids that are unlocked, you have many more options of places to go to get your hearing aids serviced.
Another reason this is a big deal is that when you get a recommendation for a private label or a locked hearing aid, there’s generally a limited amount of information that you can do for research, which means that you can’t do your due diligence to make sure that these are the right hearing aids for you at the right price.
Dealing with locked hearing aids is a weekly problem inside of my clinic. Being in Arizona, people often retire to this state, and we get a lot of snowbirds who’ve purchased hearing aids up north somewhere and come down here for the winter time. These patients come into my clinic all the time with their hearing aids that need adjusting, but I have to tell them that I can’t, because the place that they purchased them from locked them.
Who Sells Locked Hearing Aids?
You’ve really got to watch out for these companies that sell locked hearing aids, especially because they won’t tell you that their hearing aids are, in fact, locked. Some of the more common companies that sell locked hearing aids are Costco, Miracle-Ear, Beltone, Audibel, NuEar, and Avada. You’ve even got to watch out for Audigy practices that sell AGX branded hearing aids. Online hearing aids, often fall into this same category of locked hearing aids because basically, with a lot of hearing aids you buy online you, you can’t walk into a local hearing care professional to get reprogrammed.
Should You Buy Locked Hearing Aids?
Let’s say you go into one of these places, and you ask them, “Are you hearing aids locked?”, and they say, “Yes, they are.” What are your options at that point?
Number one, you could ask for an unlocked version of the hearing aid. Some practices will have access to hearing aids that are locked and unlocked, and if you specifically request an unlocked one, they may actually sell you one of the unlocked versions. Now, if they agree to do this, you want to make sure you get that in writing.
Number two, you could just go to a different clinic that sells unlocked hearing aids. There are plenty of them out there. In fact, the whole purpose of going with an unlocked hearing aid is that there are many places that you can go to get those hearing aids serviced and reprogrammed.
If you do decide to purchase locked hearing aids, then I highly recommend that you get them from a hearing care provider who follows best practices. At a minimum, they should be performing real ear verification on those hearing aids. Now, if you don’t know what real ear verification is, then I highly recommend that you watch my video, because it is perhaps the single most important factor that will determine your success with hearing treatment.
Now you know what locked hearing aids are, and you know the risks associated with purchasing locked hearing aids. Finding out if hearing aids are locked will save you time, money and headache down the road, which is why it should be the number one question that you ask when receiving a recommendation for hearing aids.