The Effects of Service-Delivery Model and Purchase Price on Hearing-Aid Outcomes in Older Adults: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial

Am J Audiol. 2017 Mar 1;26(1):53-79. doi: 10.1044/2017_AJA-16-0111.


Objectives: The objectives of this study were to determine efficacy of hearing aids in older adults using audiology best practices, to evaluate the efficacy of an alternative over-the-counter (OTC) intervention, and to examine the influence of purchase price on outcomes for both service-delivery models.

Design: The design of this study was a single-site, prospective, double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial with three parallel branches: (a) audiology best practices (AB), (b) consumer decides OTC model (CD), and (c) placebo devices (P). Outcome measures were obtained after a typical 6-week trial period with follow-up 4-week AB-based trial for those initially assigned to CD and P groups.

Setting: Older adults from the general community were recruited via newspaper and community flyers to participate at a university research clinic.

Participants: Participants were adults, ages 55-79 years, with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. There were 188 eligible participants: 163 enrolled as a volunteer sample, and 154 completed the intervention.

Intervention(s): All participants received the same high-end digital mini-behind-the-ear hearing aids fitted bilaterally. AB and P groups received best-practice services from audiologists; differing mainly in use of appropriate (AB) or placebo (P) hearing aid settings. CD participants self-selected their own pre-programmed hearing aids via an OTC model.

Primary and secondary outcome measures: Primary outcome measure was a 66-item self-report, Profile of Hearing Aid Benefit (Cox & Gilmore, 1990). Secondary outcome measure was the Connected Speech Test (Cox, Alexander, & Gilmore, 1987) benefit. Additional measures of hearing-aid benefit, satisfaction, and usage were also obtained.

Results: Per-protocol analyses were performed. AB service-delivery model was found to be efficacious for most of the outcome measures, with moderate or large effect sizes (Cohen's d). CD service-delivery model was efficacious, with similar effect sizes. However, CD group had a significantly (p < .05) lower satisfaction and percentage (CD: 55%; AB: 81%; P: 36%) likely to purchase hearing aids after the trial.

Conclusions: Hearing aids are efficacious in older adults for both AB and CD service-delivery models. CD model of OTC service delivery yielded only slightly poorer outcomes than the AB model. Efficacious OTC models may increase accessibility and affordability of hearing aids for millions of older adults. Purchase price had no effect on outcomes, but a high percentage of those who rejected hearing aids paid the typical price (85%).

Trial registration: NCT01788432;

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Commerce
  • Correction of Hearing Impairment / methods*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Hearing Aids* / economics
  • Hearing Loss / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data