The hearing health care market is undergoing some fundamental structural changes, and with these changes come both threats and opportunities for the private practice owner.
While we have seen a modest growth in hearing aid dispensing over the years, it has not been opportunity across all business channels. Plus, there have been some industry pundits who believe that the market growth will accelerate by itself. And some of those beliefs are myths.
When it comes to growth drivers, there are some myths that should be dispelled, namely the role that baby boomers will play in growing the market. While the baby boomers are "coming of age," they're not going to represent a real impact on hearing aid sales because they're still relatively young. The average age of a new hearing aid user is 69.4, and adoption rates are not increasing. Remember, it is not age that drives hearing aid dispensing but the onset of moderate hearing loss.
The advent of "ear buds" is also thought to be impacting the market. We are just now seeing the research that suggests that there is a new environmentally-induced source, but there is no real evidence to support that this will serve at a catalyst. High-frequency hearing loss is a progressive condition, and it would take a considerably long period of time for this to manifest in hearing aid sales.
Similarly, the fear that the Internet is siphoning off potential patients is unfounded. There is no question that the Internet is "the go-to resource for hearing health information." The use of the Internet for research has not automatically translated into a desire to purchase online.
There are threats to the private practitioner to be sure. The largest threat for private practices lies in patient satisfaction, which has not increased at all over the past 20 years. According to Sergei Kochkin's research on the Better Hearing Institute website, patients are not getting the most out of their hearing aids. His research reports that two-thirds of audiologists and dispensers are not going through "verification and validation" during the fitting process and that 62 percent of all fittings involve the best-fit button, with only 35 percent of fittings utilizing the "Validate and Verify" protocol.
Turning attention to patient satisfaction therefore represents a real opportunity for the private practice owner. Learning about specific lifestyle needs and ensuring an individualized fitting experience will profoundly impact this largest of threats.
Beyond the myths and the threats, there are three best practice focus areas:
Marketing: From Traffic Generation Through Dispensing
The goal of Marketing is to drive patients into the practice for an appointment. Then, the mission is to ensure that every person that comes into the practice with a hearing loss leaves with a hearing aid. Following through after traffic-generation marketing means ensuring they don't leave empty-handed and that they don't return their hearing aid because they're dissatisfied with its performance.
Talent: Recruitment, Development, Management
Impressions are first made in the front office, so it's very important to hire the right people. The way you meet and greet your patients and answer telephone calls all reflects upon your practice's brand. It's a relationship-building industry, and the people on staff are critical to those relationships.
In addition to hiring the right talent, you need to think about how you and your employees are compensated. The patient experience that you provide through evaluation and subsequent care is crucial. Everyone on staff must have the same goal. Managing by objectives at the start and tying compensation to those objectives is a proven strategy regardless of industry. Not having performance metrics in place makes it impossible to manage a team to achieve these objectives.
Sound Practice and Financial Management
My guess is that no one truly enters the profession because they love to create financial reports and pay bills. But having a firm understanding of the financial health of your business and where you are making and losing money is essential. Profit-loss statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements are all critical to providing the data you need to make sound financial decisions.
Overall, to achieve your goals, each of these three practice areas must be deliberately managed as part of the overall strategy to grow your practice. Because when it comes to successful business management and growth, remember: "Strategy without execution is nothing, but execution without strategy is chaos."
Keith Lewis is the vice president of Business Development for ReSound, overseeing ReSound U.S. business investments and monitoring industry and market trends. He works closely with private practice customers to provide practice management support and help develop business growth strategies.