Upselling hearing loss: retail hearing aids

How does this make you feel?

Last week, I was approached by a patient looking for a second opinion. The week prior she had been to a retail hearing aid store in her local shopping centre, hoping to get some advice regarding her hearing loss. As a pensioner, she should have been able to claim free hearing aids as part of the Australian Government’s hearing loss scheme under the Office of Hearing Services, but when she inquired about the program she was told by the salesperson that the government-issued hearing aids were of poor quality and inadequate for her needs.

The salesperson insisted what she needed was one of their most expensive hearing aids, priced at over $7,000.00 for a pair. Anxious about not being able to afford what seemed to be a necessity, she reached out to a friend who suggested she make an appointment with me for a second opinion.

After consulting with the patient and looking over her results, it became clear to me that the assessment from the shopping centre was completely wrong. The patient had had surgery on one ear 20 years ago which had resulted in worse hearing loss in that ear and not the other. Yet the “hearing test” from the shopping centre showed that her hearing was equal in both ears. Was this because the tester was incompetent or the equipment was faulty? Or was it just an attempt to cover up a medical condition that would have required the patient to be seen by a doctor before hearing aids could even be considered for her? It is likely we’ll never know the answer, but any of the above explanations would be unacceptable.

This patient’s experience had left her rightfully feeling “disgusted” about how she was treated; indeed, I am also disgusted about parts of our industry. For some clinicians, our profession has become just a way to make a fast dollar without any regard to a person’s needs. The first duty of every clinician is to do no harm and to act in the best interest of the patient. Shame on anyone who is taking advantage of patients, and shame on those who are enabling this practise.

We need to speak out and about what is going on in the hearing aid industry if we want change. Anyone who has a similar story can report it to the ACCC or to the new Complaints Procedure Panel. Pensioners or DVA patients can also get in contact with the Office of Hearing Services ( The spread of misinformation and the upselling of unnecessary aids need to be addressed by both the industry and the public, and I urge any Australian experiencing hearing loss to always get a second opinion before committing.

Dr Vass is currently celebrating his 40th year in the hearing health industry and has been looking after hearing loss patients in the Canberra region since 1994.