Issues about the sale of hearing aids

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a report in March 2017: Issues relating to the sale of hearing aids

The ACCC report found that commissions, incentives and other mechanisms designed to drive sales can create a conflict with clinical independence, professional integrity and the primary obligation to consumers.

“Some hearing clinics encourage clinicians to sell more expensive hearing aids by setting sales targets, paying commissions to clinicians, having arrangements that favour certain brands or are owned by companies that manufacture hearing aids. Commission-based selling can provide incentives to clinicians to supply hearing aids that are unnecessary or more expensive than a consumer needs. This has the potential to lead to consumer harm where trusted advice is being given to patients, many of whom may be vulnerable or disadvantaged,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

Key points:

  • commissions, incentives and sales targets are pervasive in the audiology industry

  • sales practices might be misleading or unconscionable – if proven would raise serious concerns under the Australian Consumer Law

  • some clinics are in relationships with finance providers

  • ACCC urges industry to make changes

  • ACCC has “strong view” that giving more information to customers won’t protect consumers

  • governments can look at regulatory models that might limit or remove commission based sales  

  • clinics can look at separating the provision of health services from the retail environment.

We note that the ACCC report highlights a lack of transparency that puts the consumer at risk at a time when they are most vulnerable.

The practice of upselling, commissions and bundling the cost of a device with follow-up rehabilitation service is an area of risk for consumers who may have no objective way of knowing whether the device recommended by an audiologist is best suited for their individual needs. The arrangement where a hearing care professional receives a financial payment for promoting a particular product brings in a level of uncertainty to a relationship that needs to be built on trust. Consumers don’t want the advice they receive to be any way influenced, or compromised by the payment of a financial incentive to the clinician.

While acknowledging that not all hearing clinics have this practice, we believe that audiologists would prefer to be rewarded for their expertise and the results they achieve for their clients.

We support the recommendations of the ACCC and would like to work with the hearing industry to help it develop alternative remuneration structures that reward quality and outcomes over sales.