The benefits of self-programming and why the FDA ought to allow it--statistics and fallacies

By Curtis Dickinson

Copyright 2005

The simplest reason why we need self-programming of our hearing aids is that the audiologist cannot know what we hear. Punching in the audiogram into the hearing aid software program is only a first step to programming. After that, fine tuning by the seller is a crap-shoot. It's really all up to what we hear that determines the fine tuning. They can't hear what we hear. Is it not ideal to make adjustments according to what we hear rather than attempting to describe to the audiologist what we hear? For example, let’s say a sound seems similar to that of a chainsaw. Of course, the audiologist's thoughts about what a chainsaw sounds like can be different from mine. Thus self-programming is the best way to go.

We list four dismal statistics of hearing aid sales that provides insight to what is wrong with the current protocol of dispensing hearing aids:

  1. Only 20% of those who could benefit from hearing aids use them. This means millions of consumers do not have hearing aids but could benefit from them. ( Home page, bottom.)

  2. Empirical data indicates that nearly 20% of workable hearing aids lie in bureau drawers, factoring to 100,000's of unused aids. ( home page, bottom)

  3. An article in the Hearing Review (January 2002, page 22) showed responses to a survey by those who sell hearing aids. Hearing aids were returned by 8.6% of the patients. The significance of this is not that these consumers did not need hearing aids; rather it clearly shows the benefit of the hearing aid did not outweigh the cost of their hearing loss. Is this the fault of the seller? My guess is a resounding yes. Assuming the hearing aids worked as manufactured, why would anyone refuse a hearing aid that benefited them? If we could pick these off a store shelf and try them, we’d be satisfied.

  4. Over 2/3 of the states have laws allowing an audiologist to keep up to 10% of retail cost of any hearing aid returned during a trial period. California has a law that explicitly requires all money to be returned when a hearing aid is returned during the trial period. From
    If the buyer returns the device within the 30-day period, the seller is required, without charge and within a reasonable time, to adjust, repair or replace the device. If, after the adjustment, repair or replacement, the device is still not specifically fit for the buyer's particular needs, the device may be returned for a refund of the total amount paid including all payments and any trade-in exchanged as part of the transaction.
    All states ought to have this.
There are more of these dismal statistics which can prove our case that the current hearing aid dispensing protocol is a seemingly deliberate attempt to keep us beholden to the monopolistic selling protocol of hearing aids. (We have proof of problems and solutions researched by a federal government agency and reported in a comprehensive 86 page Congressional Report. A summary can be found here: (

The FDA recently refused a petition to add a category to medical devices for Over-the-Counter (OTC) hearing aids. Essentially the petition was asking that the hearing aids not be classified as a medical device. This refusal was based on opposition from the Audiology organizations. Basically the audiologists were fear mongering, practically saying that the average consumer isn’t smart enough to learn if their hearing loss is medically correctable or just needs amplification. Another argument was that the consumer would program a hearing aid wrong in that it would be way too loud but we’d still keep it in our ear and cause further damage. (Wall Street Journal March 24, 2004)

I have programmed my hearing aids after two separate programming sessions with my audiologist. To compare, I recorded the audiologist's settings before the reprogramming. In each instance, my settings were different from the audiologist's. Others who have programmed their own hearing aids report immense satisfaction knowing the aids are optimally programmed. This does not mean their settings differed from the dispensers', but at least we know what our aids can do and derive great satisfaction knowing they are programmed properly. This satisfaction can never occur from letting an audiologist, who cannot hear what we hear, do the programming.

The Hearing Review reports that sellers of hearing aids should include the buyer in the fitting process (
A new multimedia sound-simulation system has been developed to help complement a “best practices protocol” and put patients in the driver’s seat when testing, fitting, and verifying hearing aids.

It is clear to me that OTC hearing aids and self-programming are options consumers must have if we are to improve our satisfaction with these wonderful miniaturized amplifiers. Those who are uncomfortable with the thought can still go to an audiologist.

If you would like to join this movement to petition the FDA for OTC hearing aids and also push for self-programming rights, contact Curtis at

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