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Cochlear Implant Cost

The Effective Management of Hearing Loss Can Justify the Cost of Cochlear Implants

Given the need for pre-operative audiological and medical evaluations before inserting the internal components of the device, plus whatever post-operative measures may prove necessary to assist patients to adjust to the new sound sensation, without medical aid, the cost of a cochlear implant would preclude most candidates from experiencing its benefits. On the other hand, for a child or an adult with severe to profound, sensorineural hearing loss, the price of choosing not to undergo this procedure could be a lifetime of silence with little or no prospect of finding gainful employment.

While the majority of those with hearing loss are able to manage their condition and lead perfectly normal lives once they have been fitted with a suitable hearing aid, in a small percentage of cases, a simple amplification device offers no benefit. More often than not, this is because of extensive damage to the specialised hair cells that line the walls of the organ of Conti – a region of the cochlea served by the auditory nerve. When healthy, the role of these cells is to convert vibrations conducted from the eardrum via the middle ear, which then manifest as ripples in the fluid-filled inner ear, into nerve impulses.

A cochlear implant, regardless of the cost, offers the patient a means with which to bypass these non-functional hair cells and deliver electric charges to the auditory nerve which, in turn, transmits them to the auditory cortex – the sound interpreting region of the brain. There, the incoming charges, although modulated by the incoming sounds just like the normal nerve impulses, result in a sensation that differs from the norm. It is this difference that necessitates the follow-up “mapping” of the device by an audiologist, and in some cases, the assistance of a speech therapist in order to help the patient come to grips with the modified sound sensations.

The charges are delivered via multiple electrodes positioned at intervals corresponding to different frequencies. This painstaking placement contributes to the cost of cochlear implants, as do the purchase price of the device, the total time required of the surgeon, and the anaesthetist and other theatre staff involved, as well as any consumable items that may be utilised during the procedure.

Not everyone who wishes to undergo this procedure will necessarily be accepted for surgery. Before a candidate for implantation is accepted, certain criteria must be met. The first step is for an audiologist to confirm the presence of severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss and that the candidate is unable to gain any significant benefit from conventional hearing aids. Even if these findings are confirmed, before subjecting the patient to the trauma of cochlear implant surgery and the associated costs, the ENT surgeon will also want to conduct some tests. In addition to assessing the patient’s general fitness to undergo surgery, the examination might include X-rays and possibly an MRI scan. The latter examinations are to check for any anatomical anomalies that might call for special precautions or that might even make proceeding with the surgery impractical.

When evaluating any purchase, the more sensible buyer will usually begin by considering just how important the product or service may be to him or her. In this case, a patient faces the choice between resuming a reasonably normal lifestyle, perhaps even hearing a parent’s or partner’s voice for the first time, and living in perpetual silence. Even given the cost of a cochlear implant, this really is a no-brainer, and everyone who may have been told that this is their best hope of regaining any degree of hearing at all should at least go as far as determining whether or not they might be a suitable candidate.

Few of the medical aid funds operating in South Africa are likely to provide sufficient cover to meet the costs of your cochlear implant in full, but there should only be a co-payment of around 10%. Where this is not covered, it may be possible to apply for an ex gratia benefit. Once your medical aid has approved the procedure, you can schedule a date for the surgery. Your procedure will normally take between two and three hours, and you can expect to be kept in the hospital overnight. Only after two to three weeks, once the wound is healed, will the external components be attached, at which point the rehabilitation process can begin. This life-changing option can more than justify the cost of a cochlear implant.