Empowerment with hearing aids – lessons from the Gold Rush

Consumers in hearing health care today are a bit like the gold miners of the 1850’s in Melbourne. The rush to the Goldfields caused much consternation amongst the ruling establishment in Melbourne, because the Master Servant Act could not be enforced. Prior to this period, servants were effectively bonded, and the penalties for leaving a servant position without a Discharge Certificate were severe. But the rush to the gold fields was too strong a tide to turn back. It didn’t just give people gold – it gave them the experience of being empowered, of working for themselves. In fact given the conditions in which they lived and worked, often for no reward at all, then the feeling of freedom and independence must have been valuable indeed. Despite that many bureaucrats still tried to put barriers in the way and halt the change. It made little difference in the end, though the Government moves caused a lot of pain and ill will with poorly thought out and reactionary policies. This was an event that was not foreseen, and for which there were no forward plans.

Internet hearing aids and e-health are a bit like that. Some hearing aid companies persist in generalized scaremongering of “Beware the Internet”. Beware one of the most enabling technologies for people who are of limited mobility of our time? The Internet – the game changer of everything. Why don’t audiology associations and consumer groups say, “Beware the Unscrupulous Hearing Aid Purveyor, independent of channel?”. It seems to me there are plenty of those. There are people in Australia charging more than $10,000 for hearing aids – can you believe that? Well we are out there with a 64 channel, fully featured hearing aid at three and a half thousand dollars a pair, with full e-health support. Not really surprising is that the retail chains grumble – not exactly an independent unbiased opinion.

I don’t ever need to comment on it – hearing aid buyers are generally savvy enough to make their own call – just like the miners of the 1850’s. It is the stampede of people that are self empowered, deserving of good service, good product, and a good deal. Although people who are using hearing aids are often able to manage their own needs, freed up from their Master Servant act, and more in pocket. Time to end the pretence and pseudo mystique around hearing aid fitting. Where there is a will it can be made easy, thus creating greater awareness of hearing and listening and its importance.

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