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The Cost of Untreated Hearing Loss

The cost of treating hearing loss is likely to be far less than the cost associated with not seeking treatment. A Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery study published online in September 2015 revealed that hearing loss is associated with several negative health outcomes.  Along with consequences of untreated hearing loss that have been more recently discussed in the medical literature, like cogitative decline, depression, and increased risk of falling, this new study conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina concluded that patients with hearing loss had significantly higher medical bills than those without hearing loss. 

The study found that within an 18-month period, patients between the ages of 55 and 64 with diagnosed hearing loss had 33% higher health care costs than those without hearing loss. Patients with untreated hearing loss spent $14,165, while those without hearing loss spent $10,629

Conclusions suggest that patients with untreated hearing loss avoid seeking timely medical care as the stress of communicating with physicians and other medical providers is heightened because of the difficulty to hear.  Additionally, the authors noted that untreated hearing loss can lead to miscommunication regarding diagnosis and treatment plans, for instance, instructions around medications and in fact, untreated hearing loss may reduce the overall effort a patient puts forth when communicating details about their general health.  

Another recent study published by Frank Lin, MD in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery found a 54% higher risk of death among patients aged 70 years plus with moderate to severe hearing loss. 

Both of these studies are being touted a wake up call. Today, it is difficult to ignore the connection between about the health and financial consequences of untreated hearing loss. With an estimated 90% of all hearing loss in the U.S. deemed not treatable by medicine or surgery; patients, families, physicians, audiologists and even insurers need to pay attention to the consequences of doing nothing about hearing loss. Not only is making a strong recommendation to the patient is critical to their overall health, the cost to treat is likely far less that the cost of not treating.  

Contrera KJ, Betz J, Genther DJ, Lin FR. Association of Hearing Impairment and Mortality in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Published online September 24, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2015.1762  

Simpson, A.N., Simpson, K.N. Dubno, J.R.. Higher Health Care Costs in Middle-aged US Adults With Hearing Loss.. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2016;142(6):607-609.