Some consumers are not aware of this, but there are two different types of hearing professionals that can fit and dispense hearing aids in most states - Audiologists and Hearing Instrument Specialists (or Hearing Aid Dispensers). It causes confusion for many consumers, because many are not aware of the differences between the two.
Audiologists & Hearing Aid Dispensers
According to the ADA (Academy of Doctors of Audiology), "an audiologist is a professional who diagnoses and treats hearing and balance problems. An audiologist has received an Au.D. (Doctorate in Audiology), or a Master's or Doctoral degree from an accredited university graduate program in audiology". A hearing aid dispenser, on the other hand, could be someone with limited training education and experience. Because the regulations around hearing care professionals are often left up to state licensing boards, the rules around training and education vary widely.
For example, in many states, all that is required to be a hearing aid dispenser is a high school diploma (or equivalent) and some level of training or apprenticeship. Some states require a bit more education or training, but typically if any degree is required, that degree can be in any subject and that additional educational component isn't related to the relevant subject matter.
In addition to educational requirements, there are three additional reasons to choose an Audiologist over hearing aid dispensers:
The training requirements for Audiologists far outweigh those of hearing aid dispensers. Doctors of Audiology (Au.D.) have 8 years of post-secondary education and thousands of hours of supervised training.
Diagnosing Hearing Issues
Audiologists have the education and training to diagnose hearing issues. Using their education, training and advanced medical equipment, they can diagnose hearing sensitivity, speech understanding, middle and inner ear function, balance problems and tinnitus.
Scope of care
In addition to hearing aids, Audiologists can help with aural rehabilitation, tinnitus, balance issues, tinnitus, APD (auditory processing disorders), misophonia, hyperacusis.
Where are Audiologists found?
While there is some crossover, dispensers typically work for more retail-focused outlets like Beltone, Miracle-Ear and Costco. Audiologists are more typically found in private practices, ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) offices and government facilities (Veterans Affairs).
The bottom line is that hearing aid dispensers and audiologists are both licensed to fit and program hearing aids, but that is where the similarities end. There is a vast difference in education and training requirements between Doctors of Audiology and hearing aid specialists. If you are considering getting hearing care for yourself or a loved one, please consider visiting your local Audiologist today!
There are some more articles & videos to read further on this topic: