Free Hearing Test Or Paid Hearing Assessment – What’s the Difference?
Hearing testing is the most commonly accepted practice of identifying hearing loss in Australia. In a fast-changing world, with more reliable e-health and telehealth options emerging, the format of hearing testing has begun to change as well. Signs for free hearing tests are now regularly displayed at shopping centres, and more recently in GP surgeries. In a world where fast and free delivery is key, the temptation of ‘something for nothing’ can be very appealing.
But what is the difference between a free and a paid hearing test? In today’s article, we’ll explain the differences between an audiologist and an audiometrist and what the process of hearing testing looks like to empower you to make the right hearing healthcare choice for yourself.
Audiologists vs. Audiometrists
Audiologists and audiometrists are both professionals who strive to help improve the lives of people living with hearing loss, but they each have a different set of rules and responsibilities. An audiologist is a healthcare professional specialising in the medical assessment and management of hearing loss, identifying, treating, and monitoring disorders of the auditory and vestibular systems.
To become an audiologist in Australia, an individual must have completed at least the equivalent of an Australian University Master’s degree in Clinical Audiology. Upon graduation, the audiologist is then required to complete a 12-month internship to obtain clinical certification. Audiologists can work independently or in teams in various environments, including hospitals, private practice, government organisations, ENT specialist practices, and remote sites.
Audiology Australia is the peak national representative body for audiologists. Audiology Australia provides professional support to its audiology members, information for other health professionals and audiology education for the public. Audiology Australia Accredited Audiologists are “regularly tested against, and continue to abide by, a suite of policies aimed at ensuring audiologists provide services lawfully, safely and effectively and in the clients’ best interests” .
Alternatively, audiometrists are hearing care professionals who specialise in the non-medical assessment and management of hearing loss and have a reduced scope of practice as compared with audiologists. In Australia, audiometrists must have undertaken at least the equivalent of an Australian Diploma-level Technical and Further Education (TAFE) vocational qualification in audiometry or a Bachelor of Audiometry from an accredited university.
Audiometrists can conduct hearing assessments to determine if a patient has hearing loss and assess whether this hearing loss affects the patient’s communication skills and quality of life. Audiometrists are also able to, under the supervision of an audiologist, prescribe and fit hearing aids.
What happens during a diagnostic hearing assessment vs a free hearing test?
A paid hearing assessment is usually performed in a sound-treated room or sound-treated booth and should include otoscopy, air and bone conduction across the full frequency range, speech discrimination, and tympanometry. Whereas a free hearing test, often referred to as a “screening”, is defined by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) as “a quick test that you will pass or fail”. It usually only includes air conduction over a reduced frequency range and may take place in a shop front or in a sound-treated room or sound-treated booth.
A trained audiologist characteristically performs a paid hearing assessment, and a free hearing test might be performed by an audiologist, audiometrist, nurse, or hearing clinic receptionist. A paid hearing assessment would begin with the audiologist taking a case history and then performing otoscopy, where a torch-like piece of equipment called an otoscope is used to examine the outer ear.
If the outer ear is essentially clear of wax and debris, then the hearing test can continue. Next, air and bone conduction testing seeks to measure the smallest sounds that an individual can hear and involves the patient pressing a trigger each time they hear a sound. Speech discrimination testing follows, quantifying the hearing thresholds and determining whether amplification is warranted.
Finally, tympanometry testing is used to objectively measure the health of the middle ear system by changing the air pressure in the ear to make the eardrum move back and forth and recording this movement on a graph. Alternatively, a free hearing test would most commonly be performed in the foyer of a hearing clinic or in a nurse’s office, with the tester or patient placing headphones on and responding to sounds between 500Hz and 4kHz.
The free hearing screening platform has changed recently with improved technology allowing for web-based or iPad hearing screenings. It must be noted that the pitfalls of free hearing screenings include:
- Unknown calibration of equipment
- Ambient noise in the test area
- And patient/user error
These often lead to the results showing larger hearing losses than a paid hearing test would.
I’ve had a hearing test; what happens next?
Following a paid hearing assessment, your audiologist will collate your results into a graph and then discuss these results with you, explaining the chart and then making a recommendation. For example, it might be recommended that you attend the clinic again in twelve months for a hearing reassessment, that you see an ENT specialist, or that you trial or purchase hearing aids.
Following a free hearing test, the tester might give you a printout of your results and should you have failed they will recommend that you return for a paid hearing assessment. Depending on who administers the test screening, you might not receive any feedback about your hearing at all.
Hearing test costs
As the name suggests, a free hearing test should incur no cost to the individual, whilst a paid hearing test will have an out-of-pocket cost to the patient.
- Some medically-based hearing clinics offer a Medicare rebate for a paid hearing test, provided the patient has a current referral from their GP, and this is accepted under Medicare as these clinics usually have the support of an ENT specialist who checks the results and reports.
- Pensioners are entitled to a fully subsidised paid hearing test every three years and a free hearing screening annually under the Government Hearing Services Program (HSP).
While a free hearing test may be a good way to start your journey to better hearing health, a paid hearing test will always give the audiologist or audiometrist more information. Not just whether hearing aids are appropriate, but what might have caused the hearing loss and if further medical or specialist intervention is necessary.
Thus, it’s important to be aware of the difference between paid and free hearing tests so that you can make the correct appointment for your needs. To book a diagnostic hearing test, don’t hesitate to contact our team at your local Attune Hearing clinic via 1300 736 702 or make your appointment online.