The Academy of Doctors of Audiology Files Lawsuit Against the International Hearing Society Regarding Tinnitus Care Provider Certificate

The Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) filed a lawsuit against the International Hearing Society (IHS) on October 28, 2016. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against IHS issuing a “Tinnitus Care Provider Certificate” to hearing aid dealers.

October 28, 2016
Contact: Stephanie Czuhajewski, CAE

The Academy of Doctors of Audiology Files Lawsuit Against the International Hearing Society Regarding Tinnitus Care Provider Certificate

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, near where IHS is located. Read the Complaint here. View Exhibit 1 here. View Exhibit 2 here.

IHS is a non-profit corporation headquartered in Livonia, Michigan. There are approximately 3,000 members of IHS throughout the United States. A very large proportion of IHS members are hearing aid dealers (as designated in Michigan) and IHS primarily seeks to further their interests.

ADA is a non-profit corporation headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky. ADA is dedicated to the advancement of audiology practitioner excellence, high ethical standards, professional autonomy and sound business practices in the provision of quality audiology care. ADA has approximately 1,500 audiologist members throughout the United States. 

IHS intends to issue the Certificate to participants who successfully complete a two-day workshop and assessment program to be offered in Orlando, Florida on December 2-3, 2016. The program is open to what IHS terms Hearing Instrument Specialists®, known in Michigan as hearing aid dealers and by various other similar descriptions in other states. Dealers may therefore potentially receive the Certificate and advertise it to the public to attract tinnitus care business.

ADA contends in the Complaint that the issuance of the Certificate to hearing aid dealers will be false or misleading advertising in violation of the federal Lanham Act and similar Michigan law. Dealers are only legally permitted to provide tinnitus care in North Carolina. Thus, other than as to those few dealers, the Certificate will falsely communicate to the public that the dealer holding it is legally allowed to provide tinnitus care.

ADA also contends that the Certificate will falsely communicate to the public that the dealer holding it is professionally competent to provide tinnitus care. The treatment of tinnitus is complex, evolving and potentially risky to patients. Only medical doctors and audiologists have the knowledge, training and experience to treat tinnitus properly. Hearing aid dealers, many with no more than a high school education, are not professionally competent to provide such care.

As described in the Complaint, tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present. While it is commonly referred to as “ringing in the ears,” tinnitus can manifest many different perceptions of sound, including buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, and clicking. 

Millions of Americans experience tinnitus, often to a debilitating degree, making it one of the most common health conditions in the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 15% of the general public — over 50 million Americans — experience some form of tinnitus. Roughly 20 million people struggle with burdensome chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases. There is currently no scientifically-validated cure for most types of tinnitus. There are, however, treatment options that can ease the perceived burden of tinnitus, allowing patients to live more comfortable, productive lives.

Audiologists generally hold an undergraduate degree and the degree of Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.), usually requiring four years of postgraduate education, including a clinical externship. Audiologists assess and provide treatment for persons with tinnitus using techniques that include, but are not limited to, biofeedback, masking, hearing aids, education, and counseling.

Hearing aid dealers are licensed in Michigan and most other states only to engage in the fitting and sale of hearing aids.  In Michigan, as is typical of other states, a Dealer may be licensed if the Dealer is no more than a graduate of an accredited high school or secondary school, has served as a salesperson under a licensed Dealer for two years and passes a written examination. In a few states, a two-year post-secondary degree is required, in other states the requirements may be even lower than in Michigan.

Rita R. Chaiken, Au.D., the President of ADA, made this statement about the lawsuit: “ADA could not stand back and do nothing to prevent IHS from issuing its new Tinnitus Care Certificate to hearing aid dealers. ADA considers the most important part of its mission to be the protection of the public in hearing health care. Tinnitus sufferers should not be deceived into believing that hearing aid dealers can legally and competently provide them with care. The IHS Certificate will unfortunately do just that. ADA had no choice but to act to stop this injustice from happening.”

Stephanie Czuhajewski, CAE, the Executive Director of ADA, added this statement: “ADA communicated with the presenter of the IHS program, Dr. Richard Tyler, seeking his cooperation in preventing the Certificate from being issued to hearing aid dealers. We received no response. ADA had no alternative but to seek an injunction in court.” 

ADA will notify members as additional information becomes available. Please contact
Stephanie Czuhajewski if you have any questions.