It’s true. We are going deaf.
Research from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has determined that hearing loss is a growing problem in the US. They project that by 2060 2/3 of older people will have hearing loss.
The tragedy is that much of this can be avoided by protecting your ears from loud sounds. An ounce of prevention (ear plugs) is better than a pound of cure (hearing aids). The time to start protecting your hearing is now.
GN ReSound launched their MFiPhone product in February 2014 and began paving the way for other manufacturers to get on board to offer this compatibility. MFI compatibility is available in all levels of the LiNX2, so it is accessible to those unable to afford premium level technology. Money ain’t no thang here for that feature!
One of the best things about the LiNX2 is that the tinnitus sound generator doesn’t disappear with the addition of MFI capabilities. This means that you can utilize a variety of maskers for tinnitus and still have the ability to stream directly to your phone. ReSound also offers a customizable tinnitus streaming program through their tinnitus application.This is not possible in all MFI hearing aids from other manufacturers (at time of this blog going live). Additionally, you can ALSO have T-coil compatibility-you just need the larger model size of the RIC (receiver-in-canal). The difference in size is minimal, and worth it if you just can’t let go of that T-coil option. I personally don’t think either model of the LiNX2 RIC is entirely sleek and up-to-date looking, but that’s my opinion.
The GN ReSound app is pretty user friendly. Hearing aids can be adjusted individually as needed per environment (meaning you can turn the volume to your left hearing aid down while increasing the volume in the right if you are driving and want to hear your passenger better… kind of cool, right?!), and the iPhone can even be used as a microphone that streams directly to the hearing aids. The app has the ability to give a wearer LiNX a LOT of options for adjusting settings though, so keep this in mind if you as a provider do not want a patient monkeying with all your hard work! As a user, you’ll love it if you’re tech savvy, and hate it if technology makes you cringe. Also-just like the previously reviewed Oticon OPN, any updates to hearing aid firmware will need to be pushed through in office and cannot be done directly through the app.
In terms of streaming, patient feedback has been mixed. I have had many patients report excellent sound quality for phone calls, and less-than-stellar quality for music. Depending on what you will be primarily streaming, this may be a turn-off. It is also worth noting that at the time of publishing Dr. Peterson currently uses the LiNX platform for her tinnitus and hearing loss.
As always, hearing aids should NOT be chosen based on direct-to-iPhone compatibility. GN ReSound has a very distinct algorithm for processing sound that may or may not work for your brain. The ultimate goal in selecting amplification is to allow access to speech with ease in a variety of environments-not stream the latest Ed Sheeran hit without interruption (although, a major plus).
Pros: Available in multiple technology levels, able to utilize tinnitus masking, t-coil compatibility available.
Cons: mixed reports on streaming quality, in-office visits for firmware upgrades, larger RIC model is significantly less sleek than other MFI options.
The ability to maintain tinnitus masking and T-coil functionality give the LiNX2 a step up. However, if exceptional streaming quality is your primary concern when investing in a MFI product, this would not be my go-to recommendation. I give the GN ReSound LiNX2 3 out of 5 ears.
Sabrina Marciante, AuD, CCC-A, FAAA
Oticon became the third major hearing aid manufacturer to develop and release a Made for iPhone (MFI) hearing aid, first out in 2016. At that time, this technology was only available in the top tier (premiere level) of hearing aid, but has since been released at lower price points with varying levels of technology. This makes MFI amplification accessible to a variety of patients, but that doesn’t mean the OPN will work for everyone!
First things first: hearing aid users should not make a decision on amplification based SOLELY on direct streaming capabilities. Taking into account the primary reason for obtaining amplification (documented, diagnosed hearing loss, duh), the Oticon OPN offers excellent processing of speech in a variety of environments. The OPN is hailed as one of the most effective hearing aids for making speech clear to a listener in noise, and reduces listening effort compared to other comparable devices. Patient report has been EXCELLENT in our clinic, and feedback from users indicates to me that Oticon is not overstating their claims. It really is a solid choice for amplification, particularly to address speech in noise concerns.
Now, on to why you clicked here. The OPN has been the MFI hearing aid I have been fitting most often ending 2016 and beginning 2017. I won’t lie: this aid is SLICK. It has a sleek, modern, low-profile style that appeals to many in younger generations and the working population. It allows direct streaming of both phone calls and music/podcasts/audiobooks. Patient feedback has been very positive, and my patients have been extremely happy with the sound quality of both speech on the phone and music. Keep in mind, battery life varies based on how much you stream! Plus, the app can control your hearing aids in addition to communicating with other internet-controlled devices. Want to stream your Smart TV? Know your alarm is set at home? You can do that, and hear it all from your OPN devices.
However, the OPN is not for everyone. Are you suffering from tinnitus? Guess what-the OPN does not offer a tinnitus sound generator or any masking techniques. If amplification for your hearing loss does not offer relief from your tinnitus, and you are still bothered by it constantly, the OPN is NOT the MFI hearing aid for you. We cannot program tinnitus therapy in any level of the OPN. Additionally, you cannot add the widely known t-coil function in the OPN. Want to directly stream LaLa Land from the big screen at the theater to your aids? Can’t do it. This functionality is not a turn-off for everyone, and by not offering this, Oticon can keep the sleek, compact style the OPN has become known for. Just providing information here!
Last but not least, only one manufacturer currently offers firmware upgrades through their own app. Oticon is not that manufacturer. This means that when you upgrade your phone’s iOS software and there is an upgrade in the firmware in the hearing aids, a visit to your audiologist is required to ensure proper upgrading and pairing of devices.
THE QUICK AND DIRTY**:
Pros: sleek style, offered in multiple tier/technology levels, excellent direct iPhone streaming quality for phone calls and music.
Cons: incapable of programming tinnitus management, no t-coil, in-office visits for firmware upgrades.
While there are some limitations to what can be programmed in the OPN, the sound quality Oticon provides for both everyday amplification and through direct iPhone streaming is excellent. Overall, I give this product 4 out of 5 ears.
Sabrina Marciante, AuD, CCC-A, FAAA
REVIEWS of MFiPHONE HEARING AIDS:
**Disclaimer: there are other hearing aids on the market that will also connect directly to an Apple device. However, our clinic fits the newest platform of chip from the six major manufacturers, and we do not make it practice to provide technology that is rebranded, outdated, or defeatured.
When people are thinking about moving forward with treating their hearing loss with hearing aids, the two most common questions asked are, how much do hearing aids cost, and will my insurance cover the cost of the hearing aids? Because every single insurance plan is different, hearing aid coverage has become a very complex issue, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Almost every insurance company provides coverage for diagnostic hearing testing. This provides the information needed to determine IF you have a hearing loss, the location of the damage, the severity of the loss and if an amplification system will even help you. This information is vital for your audiologist to determine the best treatment options for your lifestyle, expectations and budget.
- Between insurance carriers the coverage for hearing aids, if it is even offered, is vastly different between providers and between each specific plan. These plans can vary widely even within the same insurance company. One plan may offer some sort of hearing aid coverage, while another will not. As a general rule regular Medicare does NOT offer any hearing aid benefit. So, this means that even though you and your friend may both have the same insurance provider, you may have completely different plans with different coverage. It is always best to be proactive and call your insurance provider to learn the specifics of your coverage.
- Even if your insurance company offers benefit or helps cover the cost of the hearing aids, you will need to meet your deductible before that benefit kicks in. So lets say you have a high deductible, say $6000, you will need to meet that before any benefit is offered.
- You need to understand the difference between real hearing aid benefit and the insurance's promotion of a low-end heraing aid that is sold directly through your provider. I can not stress this enough. Not all hearing aids can be compared to each other. Some of these companies promote a "hearing aid benefit" that is the distribution of a VERY basic, low-end device that you could purchase on your own. You need to understand exactly what is being offered and your options. In many cases the benefits will restrict your choice to a specific device, provider or that your device be obtained through a third party distribution center. Depending on your hearing loss this may or may not be appropriate for you. It is only a benefit if what you receive actually helps you.
- Hearing aids qualify for health savings and flex spending accounts. You can deduct the cost off of your taxes if you itemize your medical expenses. At this time there is not a tax credit for hearing aids. Recently Congress moved to release the FDA requirement that medical clearance be obtained before getting hearing aids. This is a terrible idea. You should know where the hearing loss is, the severity and IF there is some medical issue that needs to be addressed. This law allows for over-the-counter amplification devices (NOT hearing aids) to become available. These are not actual hearing aids, but amplifiers with 1970's technology.
The tl;dr here is that while many insurance companies are starting to offer hearing aid benefit, it is important that YOU contact your insurance comany to know the details of your specific plan for both in and out of network coverage. In the ever changing scope of the American healthcare system, it is important that everyone take a proactive stance in understanding their benefits. In many cases, you may save a lot more money out of pocket with an out of network provider that has lower hearing aid prices.
Paige Peterson AuD, PhD, CCC-A, FAAA, ABA
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