Editor’s note: In light of the coming audiology storm, this short piece by Professor Roeser has as much relevance today as it did when it appeared at HearingHealthMatters on August 22, 2012. One should consider this position in reference to “big box” practices as well as the rehabilitative tasks that audiology has been favorably arguing for at least the past five years.
By Ross Roeser
A growing trend in audiology practice, at least in Texas, is for audiologists to sponsor office staff for hearing aid licensure. The notion seems to be that by holding a hearing aid dispensing license the staff member will be able to carry out office duties that include a broad array of basic audiological procedures, and will be able to fit and dispense hearing aids.
When asked about the wisdom of sponsoring someone with minimal educational requirements for such licensure, audiologists invariably give the rationale that the individual will function under the “close supervision” of the licensed audiologist.
This practice is counterproductive to the desire to raise the audiology profession in the healthcare arena. It is antithetical to bringing quality audiological services to patients. And it is shirking the issue of defining and implementing programs for audiology assistants.
Hearing aid licensure laws in many states set minimal requirements. In Texas, being 18 years of age, having a high school education or its equivalent (GED), serving a 9-month apprenticeship, and passing a written and oral exam (given by other licensed dispensers) will allow an individual to become “independently” licensed to fit and dispense hearing aids. This means the individual is licensed to carry out all the audiological procedures needed to fit and dispense any and all types of hearing instruments on the market– bar none.
Most important is that, once licensed, these assistants do not have to be supervised by anyone; they can function as independent practitioners. The sponsoring audiologist might one day find his/her apprentice across the street in a competing practice vying for the same patient population!
NOT THE TIME TO LOWER PRACTICE STANDARDS
Audiologists who sponsor hearing aid dispensers for licensure trivialize the training and skills needed for adequate hearing instrument competency. With today’s advanced technology and fitting strategies, more training and clinical experience are needed, not less.
Even more important is that once licensed the dispenser may (and will) become an independent practitioner, even if the audiologist who trained the assistant had every good intention of supervising him or her. But what happens when the audiologist is on vacation, is out sick, or when there is a satellite office that needs staffing?
What other profession promotes substandard academic requirements and limited requirements for individuals who have the potential to become independent competitors? There were only about 250 licensed Texas dispensers just a few years ago. Now the number is approaching 500 because of audiology sponsorship.
It is time to define and implement audiology assistant programs so that support staff are available—true support staff who will require mandatory supervision. Isn’t that the model virtually every other profession follows?
Ross Roeser, PhD, is Professor and Head of the Doctor of Audiology Program at the University of Texas at Dallas/Callier Center for Communication Disorders, and Executive Director Emeritus of the Callier Center. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Audiology, and was the founding Editor of Ear & Hearing.
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