An ACCC inquiry into the hearing services industry has found that sales driven by commissions has the potential to cause widespread consumer detriment.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released its report earlier this month.
That report pinpoints concerns about sales-based remuneration arrangements for clinicians that create incentives for clinicians to supply hearing devices that are unnecessary or more expensive than a consumer needs.
Based on the information gathered during its inquiries, the report says the ACCC is concerned about a range of business practices in the hearing services industry.
“This has the potential to cause widespread consumer detriment, especially for consumers who are vulnerable,” the report says.
As a result of its enquiries, three key issues relating to the sale of hearing aids were identified:
- Sales may be driven by commissions and other incentives rather than consumer need,
- Cost and performance of hearing aids, and
- Treatment of vulnerable consumers.
“We are concerned about sales-based remuneration arrangements and performance frameworks, which create incentives for clinicians (audiologists and audiometrists) to supply hearing aids that are unnecessary or more expensive than a consumer needs,” the ACCC report says.
“We recognise that not all clinics or clinicians engage in the kind of conduct that was brought to our attention.
“Some consumers indicated positive experiences dealing with hearing clinics and clinicians,” the report noted.
Central to the report are concerns over incentives and cross ownership of hearing aid clinics.
Dr Daniel Mestric from Amplex Hearing Port Macquarie says he and other audiologists welcomed the report by the ACCC.
“The document highlights some worrying practices within the hearing aid industry which directly impact consumers and the services and advice they receive,” he said.
“Central to the report are concerns over incentives and cross ownership of hearing aid clinics.
“Many hearing clinics in Australia are now owned by large multinational hearing aid manufacturers, some of which have adopted a retail model to providing services and products.”
Dr Mestric said the ACCC findings also emphasised the need for consumers to do their due diligence before selecting a service provider.
He suggested the establishment of registration at the national level would overcome some of the issues raised in the ACCC report.
“As a member of the Independent Audiologists of Australia, which supports ethical and independent practice, we have been lobbying the federal government to adopt national regulation of the hearing health sector in favour of the current self-regulated model,” he said.
“The latter model has clearly let down both consumers and audiology graduates.
“Further work needs to be done to educate the public about the real cost of free hearing tests. If I had concerns about my own hearing, I would want a complete hearing test by an appropriately qualified practitioner, followed up with impartial advice, not a sales spiel.
“Free hearing tests are not in the public’s best interest and should only be offered to mark a special milestone or coincide with a national health initiative such as hearing awareness week.”
The full ACCC report on Issues around the sale of hearing aids can be found here
A print version of The ACCC guidelines for consumers is available here