- Published on 02 June 2017
Researchers from India, Sweden and the United States recently carried out a systematic literature review to investigate applications of direct-to-consumer hearing devices for adults with hearing loss, and came to some interesting conclusions.
As part of consumer-driven changes in healthcare, the direct-to-consumer approach in hearing healthcare has become more popular. To perform a review in this area, the group used a range of limited inclusion and exclusion criteria and selected 13 reports to include from the following databases: CINAHL, MEDLINE, and PsycINFO. Two authors conducted the search independently to ensure no reports were missed.
The review looked at three types of direct-to-consumer hearing devices: 1) personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), 2) direct-mail hearing aids, and 3) over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.
Findings indicate that the electroacoustic characteristics of these devices vary significantly. Some meet the stringent acoustic criteria of hearing aids, while others may produce dangerous sound outputs above the 120 dB sound pressure level. Low-cost devices were generally found to be poor in acoustic quality and did not meet gain levels necessary to correct most cases of adult and elderly hearing loss, especially in high frequencies.
Results from the surveys also showed that although direct-mail hearing aids and PSAPs were associated with lower satisfaction versus hearing aids purchased through hearing healthcare professionals, 5% to 19% of people with hearing loss acquired hearing aids through direct-mail or online. Interestingly, studies on outcome evaluation suggest positive outcomes of OTC devices in the elderly population, according to the authors. However, OTC outcomes were better when a hearing healthcare specialist was involved in supporting the consumer.
The authors conclude that “While some direct-to-consumer hearing devices have the capability to produce adverse effects due to production of dangerously high sound levels and internal noise, the existing literature suggests that there are potential benefits of these devices.” They nonetheless highlight the weakness of currently available data.
Manchaiah V, et al. Applications of direct-to-consumer hearing devices for adults with hearing loss: a review. Clinical Interventions in Aging 2017, 12:859-871.