One of the questions that comes up in our office from patients is – what is the difference between an audiologist and a hearing aid dispenser? It’s a great question, as there is confusion between the different levels of care each can provide.

Every week, we see several patients who have come in because they have in-the-ear hearing aids but have more hearing loss than can be addressed. Or, the hearing instruments were not programmed correctly, leaving notable gaps in hearing performance. Both of these scenarios have one thing in common: unhappy wearers. This is a common result of a lack of training in a dispenser office focused on selling and not properly programming.

When online shopping for hearing aids, it is vital to keep in mind who will be doing your exam. If your provider is a dispenser and not an audiologist (a person with a doctoral degree in the science of hearing and sound), you will do best if your hearing loss is minimal, requiring a small boost.

Qualifications for a Licensed Dispenser

In New York State, a dispenser may be “…any person or a licensed audiologist who is engaged in the act of “fitting, selecting, renting, adapting, or servicing of hearing aids or any other instrument to compensate for impaired hearing.” Explicitly included are testing and fitting procedures. Testing is only for purposes of fitting and is not an audiological or medical exam.”

Further, the minimum qualifications are:

  • Submit a completed application and, 
  • The required fee of $150 to the Department of State, and,
  • Be 21 years old or a licensed audiologist.

You can apply for a hearing aid dispenser registration based on any of the following categories:

(a) Registered hearing aid dealer or employee of registered hearing aid dealer

(b) Audiologist licensed under Article 159 of the Education Law, or;

(c) First-time applicant with no previous experience/less than one year of experience. Details regarding supporting documents needed are provided on the dispenser application.

An applicant must complete a 1-20 hour course, depending upon the Dispenser Education Course provider.

So the minimum requirements are, if you are 21, can pass a 1-hour course and pay $150, you can be a licensed hearing aid dispenser in New York State.

A hearing aid dispenser typically works in a hearing aid office within big box stores, or a hearing aid store.

Qualifications for a Licensed Audiologist – (From the American Speed and Hearing Association, New York State Requirements to become an Audiologist)

  • Master’s degree or higher or equivalent as determined by the New York State Education Department
  • A Doctoral applicant must compete 1,820 hours of supervised clinical experience under supervision.
  • A Master’s applicant must complete 400 hours of supervised practicum and 36 weeks of supervised experience. 
  • Acceptable passage of an exam determined by the NYSED
  • May be additionally Board-certified through the American Board of Audiology

When searching for a local office to address hearing difficulties, consider these additional clues. These elements are commonly found at a dealer or dispensing office.

  • Ask about the training level of the person doing your fitting and hearing exams;
  • A preliminary online “hearing test” where you have the results emailed to you;
  • Focus is on the low cost, or incredible specials, instead of your best hearing capability;
  • They offer tinnitus cures.

An audiologist appointment is a clinical visit that considers your current lifestyle and activity requirements, your past/current military service or work environments, your current health and medication, and any balance issues. Audiologists perform comprehensive hearing evaluations, diagnostic testing for balance disorders, auditory processing evaluations, fitting of amplification, aural rehabilitation, newborn hearing screenings, address hearing conservation, cerumen management,  and provide evaluation and treatment of tinnitus and hyperacusis.  Audiologists work in settings such as hospitals, schools, clinics, private practices, ENT offices, and universities.

Your personal health history is critical as you may have had surgery, injury or ototoxic medications (common with some cancer treatments). An audiologist takes all of this information into account when recommending an appropriate solution.

Suppose you have been unsuccessfully wearing your hearing aids, not wearing them all day, only wearing them to watch tv, or still struggling to hear conversations. In that case, it is recommended that you make an appointment to see a licensed audiologist.

Ask questions and look for information that will tell you if you should see an audiologist or a dispenser, and select the one that best suits your hearing health needs.

At MacDonald Audiology, our providers are licensed and board-certified audiologists, are current with ongoing hearing health education requirements, and are highly experienced in providing clinical hearing care.

For more information regarding the requirements for dispensing agents in NYS  https://dos.ny.gov/hearing-aid-dispenser

For more information regarding the requirements for Audiologists in NYS – https://www.asha.org/advocacy/state/info/ny/licensure/