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OTC Hearing Aids Increase Accessibility for Patients with Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss

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

Approximately 37.5 million Americans live with hearing loss. A pair of hearing aids can cost approximately $2,500 per device, totaling $5,000 for a pair of hearing aids––a cost rarely covered by insurance.

Starting on October 17, 2022, OTC hearing aids will become 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 insights into just some of the knowledge and skills pharmacists will need to counsel patients on OTC hearing aids at this year’s NCPA Annual Convention, held October 1 through 4, 2022, in Kansas City, Missouri.

In 2017, a bill presented 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 OTC. These devices, however, are not a replacement for or alternative to traditional hearing aids. OTC hearing aids are only designed for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss, not for individuals with profound hearing loss.

Traditional hearing aids are professionally custom fit for each patient and require a prescription. OTC hearing aids will not require a prescription or the administration of any hearing tests or screens. With only roughly 14,000 audiologists in the country, patients with mild to moderate hearing loss will not have to worry about being able to access 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…these are pretty pricey.”

With OTC availability, hearing aids will become more widely accessible to people with mild to moderate hearing loss who can’t afford traditional hearing aids. With an earbud-like design, patients will be able to fit their hearing aids themselves—and avoid the stigma that comes along with wearing traditional hearing aids.

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“A patient can go into a pharmacy, can go on an online retailer, to an electronic store, [or] to 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 refer patients to the proper course of care. For example, pharmacists, must be able to recognize when a patient’s hearing loss is beyond the point where an OTC hearing aid will be helpful. Audiologists must be able to refer patients to a pharmacy for an OTC hearing aid when it is appropriate.

“There’s about 38 million people in America that have hearing loss,” Berenbrok said. “About 30 million of those [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 Prescryptive Health.

Reference

  1. Berenbrok L. Quick consults: OTC opportunities: Hearing aids. Presented at: National Community Pharmacists Association 2022 Annual Convention; October 1-4, 2022; Kansas City, MO.

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