Risk Versus Benefits in Audiology Marketing

“A Mercedes with all service options, or a Volkswagen with qualifications, and fewer service options? The quality of your hearing health care and your life, may depend on whether you rely on the consistency and integrity of the more expensive, proven product, or whether you want to take the risk and decide to intervene on your own behalf, with a lesser product that may or may not meet your needs, and then what….?”

Any correlation between the “Repeal and Replace” strategy for the Affordable Care Act by the incoming national government and the introduction of OTC amplification devices, and PSAP’s that some think will imperil the immediate and future roles and earning power of the Audiologists and Hearing Instrument Specialists is an invalid assumption based on emotionally charged reactions, and not the facts. The law turns on the facts, as does medicine, as does audiology. Let review some of the following facts.

FACT: OTC amplification devices will lead to more self-diagnosis and self-treatment, and consequently more misdiagnosis and more inadequate treatment. As a result of OTC hearing aid availability and marketing by OTC manufacturers, direct to consumer marketing by hearing healthcare specialists will become less effective, and they will indeed feel a decrease in foot traffic in the next few years. On the other hand, more patients will be telling their primary care physicians that they bought one of those OTC hearing aids at a major retailer, and it “sort of helped” for a while, but it was a difficult to program, fit, and use, and now “what should I do”? The collaborative, interdisciplinary relationship between primary care physicians and audiology will become MORE important, not less.

FACT: “A Rising Tide Raises All Ships”. 1.There is a trend in the literature toward the recognition that hearing loss is a significant health problem, some times with systemic origins, and sometimes with systemic complications, that ought to be diagnosed and treated more aggressively. 2. There is a trend in technology toward more effective amplification devices. 3. There is a trend toward greater visibility to the consumer of hearing technology in the retail marketplace. 4. The trend toward population health will not go away because it is not a political issue, it is an economic issue for American industry, local and State governments, and Medicare. In the future, primary care physicians will increasingly be expected to diagnose and refer patients with hearing loss instead of ignoring them as they have in the past.

FACT: It is a fact that these trends are not “pushing patients” into the practices of independent audiologists, so it is up to the audiologists/hearing healthcare specialists to “pull” the patients into their practices. There are competitive marketing messages that are effective in accomplishing this. This is true when you establish partnerships in patient care, and preventive care, with primary care physicians in the comprehensive care of the patient, that minimizes impairment, and maximizes function.

FACT: Audiology practices can compete on price, and exceed the service capability of the OTC retail outlet providers staffed by retail sales clerks. Your “risk versus benefit marketing decision” will be based on whether you think that OTC’s and PSAP’s will have no effect whatsoever on your practice’s revenue, as though they did not exist, in which case you will do nothing different than your are now, and the risk is acceptable. Or, you can decide there are benefits for your practice by embracing the introduction of these “disrupters”, by stocking, dispensing, servicing, and promoting them when clinically appropriate. This second option will allow you to expand your practice with new patients, and allow you the opportunity to develop long term, loyal patients/customers which will ultimately result in a profitable long term, sustainable revenue stream; particularly as they transition to more sophisticated hearing/amplification technology that meets their hearing health care needs.

FACT: Just like the FDA places restrictions of use, (contra-indications, warnings, side-effects, and black-box warnings, etc) in an FDA-approved drug’s package insert, the ADA and FDA seek a comprehensive audiological evaluation from an audiologist or physician prior to purchasing any OTC device, especially if the patient exhibits any of the signs of ear disease, (tinnitus, dizziness, drainage from the ear, sudden hearing loss, asymmetric hearing, foreign body in the ear, cerumen impaction, pain, congenital or traumatic deformity of the ear). The ADA recommends labeling that states the device is a non-surgical, air conduction hearing aid intended to address mild to moderate hearing loss. The public can purchase an OTC product, but it will come with qualifications.

FACT: The next statement can lead to poor outcomes that may be hazardous to a consumer’s health. “The availability of OTC hearing devices, with the inclusion of appropriate labeling and safeguards, will allow consumers to make better informed decisions about their treatment options, and will likely also make products more affordable and accessible to the hearing impaired”. In today’s healthcare environment it is unwise to allow patients to make independent decisions about their health that require medical intervention. How can this change with a patient’s audiological decisions, when taking into account the complexity of the proposed “limitations of use” of OTC’s mentioned in the previous paragraph?

FACT: Audiology needs to update their websites, internet adds, and deliver their messages about the “professional, compassionate, and empathetic care” that they can provide, whether the patient qualifies for an OTC product, (would a Mercedes Benz dealership refuse to sell or service a Volkswagen?) or a more sophisticated, programmable device option with an extended warranty, that is fully replaceable by the manufacturer, that has one, two, or three years of warranty, that can be worn on a trial basis, or even returned for a full refund.

FACT: Human’s do better in life if they have choices! It is not the end. In fact, the Hearing Healthcare Industry’s future just got brighter, and busier…….!

Thank you for your attention – Bob Tysoe of Hearing Healthcare Marketing Company, Portland Oregon. Contact: robert.tysoe@netzero.net