By David H. Kirkwood
BOSTON–“Welcome to the largest gathering of audiologists in the history of the world!” That’s how Karen Jacobs, AuD, program chair for AudiologyNOW! 2012, opened the General Assembly on March 29. The session drew a large portion of the close to 8000 audiologists, exhibitors, and others who attended the American Academy of Audiology’s 24th annual convention at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
Jacobs set the tone for a lively, often light-hearted assembly with a humorous video that showed her touring the host city in a variety of costumes.
One scene showed her in Colonial garb riding through the streets of Boston on a wooden hobby horse (named Decibel) and calling out, Paul Revere-style, “The audiologists are coming! The audiologists are coming!”
In another, she walked into Cheers, the Boston bar that inspired the popular TV show. As the show’s theme song goes, everyone at Cheers knew her name, as they greeted her with cries of “Karen! Karen!” For these and other scenes, including one with five Karens, visit the AudiologyNOW! web site and click on “Karen Jacobs’ Welcome Video.”
FUN, BUSINESS, AND AWARDS
When Therese Walden, AuD, the president of AAA, took center stage, she urged listeners, “Have fun, engage, and educate.” She also stressed that the theme of this year’s convention was “Audiology means business,” and she and other speakers pointed out the hundreds of opportunities attendees would have to hone their business skills.
One important aspect of the business of audiology is reimbursement, so it was appropriate that the first of the three President’s Awards that Walden presented went to Annette Burton, AuD. As chair of the academy’s Coding and Reimbursement Committee, Burton has helped educate members and staff about issues related to Medicare, HCPCS codes, and related topics.
Walden also cited Sharon Sandridge, PhD, as “an unsung heroine” for her contributions to AAA’s community outreach. These have included her leadership of DiscovEARy Zone, a program promoting hearing loss prevention to school-aged children and adults, which has been a regular feature at AudiologyNOW! since 2007.
The third President’s Award recipient was Deb Abel, AuD, who has contributed to AAA in many ways, including in her current staff position as senior education specialist for business practices.
MEMBERS ARE THE “KEYNOTERS”
Usually the General Assembly features an inspirational or witty or politically savvy guest as the keynote speaker. But this year, Walden told the members, it was they who were the keynoters. And, so they were, thanks to a video made at the Illinois Academy of Audiology convention, where Paul Pessis, AuD, a former AAA president, interviewed audiologists on a variety of topics.
Among the questions posed were “What does ‘Audiology Means Business’ mean to you?” and “What aspect of audiology keeps you up at night?”
A WORD FROM THEIR SPONSOR
While he couldn’t be in Boston in person, there was one guest speaker, Rep. Mike Ross, D-AR, who appeared in a videotaped interview with AAA President Walden. Ross is the lead sponsor in the U.S. House of Representatives for the direct access bill, which is AAA’s top legislative priority. The measure would authorize reimbursement for audiologic services to Medicare patients who go directly to an audiologist. Currently, Medicare coverage is limited to patients who are referred to the audiologist by a physician.
Although the bill has been introduced in the last several sessions of congress, Ross sounded a hopeful note. “We’re making progress,” he said, adding that passage of the law would “benefit patients and reduce the cost of healthcare.” But, he told Walden, the success of the effort “will come down to your members. We need audiologists to be more aggressive in reaching out to their representatives.”
REPORTS FROM RELATED AFFILIATES
In a panel presentation at the General Assembly led by Cheryl Kreider-Carey, executive director of AAA, leaders of four organizations allied with the academy discussed their recent accomplishments.
Richard Danielson, PhD, president of the AAA Foundation, announced that it would start two new annual lectures: Innovations in Workplace Management, sponsored by Phonak, and Topics in Tinnitus, sponsored by Widex.
Gail Whitelaw, PhD, chair of the American Board of Audiology, reported that the Department of Defense has announced plans to give substantial raises to military audiologists who obtain ABA certification.
Lisa Hunter, PhD, who heads the Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education, reported that it has certified four university programs and that three more are moving through the pipeline.
Kari Morgenstein, president of the Student Academy of Audiology, noted that the organization now has 60 chapters and some 1700 members. She also reported on the relationship between the Student Academy and the Special Olympics Healthy Hearing program.
Near the end of the General Assembly, Deborah Carlson, PhD, joined Therese Walden, whom she will succeed as president on July 1. Together, the present and future leaders touched on some key issues facing audiology in the coming year, including the emergence of online hearing testing and sale of hearing aids to consumers without any professional intervention.
In discussing her vision for audiology, Carlson said that the profession must use “a multi-pronged approach” to achieving a future in which audiologists “are recognized as being the preferred providers of hearing and balance care.” She also called on the academy to partner with other healthcare organizations to achieve shared goals.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
As usual, AudiologyNOW! offered an enormous range of choices on the educational, professional, technological, and social fronts.
Starting with the daylong pre-convention Audiology Research Conference on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, and running through Saturday afternoon, the educational offerings included many hundreds of featured sessions, learning modules, exhibitor courses, research podiums, learning labs, student educational sessions, and clinical research posters. The subjects were divided into 14 different tracks, covering everything from business practices to neuro-audiology.
More than 200 companies displayed their products and services at Audiology Solutions, and the giant exhibit hall drew heavy traffic through much of the convention. For more on what was new at Audiology Solutions, see next week’s Hearing News Watch.
For many audiologists, the most cherished aspect of AAA’s annual convention is the opportunity to get together with friends and colleagues from around the world. There were dozens of social events this year in Boston, including university open houses, manufacturers’ parties, and the always popular AAA Foundation Happy Hour.
Local color was on display at the Celebrate Audiology party, which drew a huge turnout of students, and the Boston Beer and Chowda, a fundraiser for the academy’s political action committee (PAC). Members paid warm tribute to the seven outstanding audiologists selected this year to receive awards at the Honors Reception. For information on the recipients, see the Marcb 28 Hearing News Watch.
As usual, the final event at AudiologyNOW! was the Trivia Bowl, where for the 23rd year in a row Drs. Gus Mueller and Jerry Northern amused and baffled contestants with their off-the-wall questions and far-fetched foils. The winning team, for the third time in the past four years, was the FLAC PAC, made up of audiologists selected for the Future Leaders of Audiology Conference. The Vanderbilt student team not only bested the other student squads but also outscored the FLAC PAC.