By David H. Kirkwood
WASHINGTON, DC—The International Hearing Society (IHS) and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) will join forces, under the umbrella of the Hearing Healthcare Education Coalition (HHEC), to hold the inaugural Unison Hearing Health Global Summit September 8-11, 2016, in Chicago.
Unison, which starting next year will take the place of the two professional organizations’ traditional annual meetings, is described by HHEC as “an innovative forum and educational experience that will bring together audiologists, hearing aid specialists, physicians and other providers, along with industry and consumer representatives, for the purpose of ensuring best practices in the delivery of optimal, outcome-based hearing health solutions.”
AN UNEXPECTED ACCORD
This unprecedented agreement between ADA and IHS remained a closely held secret, even from most of the organizations’ members, until Unison was unveiled on March 6 during the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) annual meeting in Washington. IHS’s executive director, Kathleen Mennillo, and Stephanie Czuhajewski, executive director of ADA, reported the news to the gathering shortly after HIA’s board had voted unanimously to be an endorsing sponsor of Unison.
Mennillo and Czuhajewski then e-mailed separate announcements to their members about the surprising development. What made the news especially surprising is that ADA, like other audiology organizations, and IHS, whose members are predominantly hearing aid specialists, have historically been far more likely to clash than to collaborate.
But, say leaders of IHS and ADA, times and circumstances have changed, making 2015 a good time for the two groups to work together.
Mennillo wrote, “Unison, a name inspired by the desire to strive together as one voice to reach a common goal, will bring hearing aid specialists, audiologists, physicians and other providers… into one collaborative forum, with the goal of achieving better outcomes for patients.”
Kim Cavitt, AuD, president of ADA, explained in her organization’s statement, “The genesis for [Unison] is the recognition that the entire healthcare landscape is shifting and yesterday’s models of care will not effectively serve the patients of tomorrow.” With only 25,000 audiologists and hearing aid specialists available to serve the 40 million Americans with hearing loss, Cavitt said, “It is time to create a learning and networking environment that brings together all stakeholders and providers. Only then will we be able to cultivate sustainable solutions that optimize patient outcomes and advance our professional goals.”
On a similar note, IHS President Scott Beall, who is a board-certified specialist as well as an AuD audiologist, said, “Unison provides an unprecedented opportunity to change the footprint of hearing healthcare education by engaging in deeper conversations and learning opportunities across providers, across the globe, and across the continuum of care.”
Todd Murray, chair of HIA, explained why the industry group has endorsed the Unison initiative: “We support programs that enhance the continued excellence of our dispensing customers and efficiently focus our collective resources to expand consumer benefit. We believe this effort meets those criteria. We applaud ADA and IHS for their work, and we support them and expect success.”
A LONG TIME COMING
For some hearing industry veterans, this collaborative initiative is the realization of a long-held dream. As early as the 1980s, HIA members had promoted the idea of a single hearing healthcare meeting instead of separate ADA and IHS conventions. And as recently as this February, Hearing Review’s long-time editor, Karl Strom, published an editorial urging ADA and IHS to put aside their differences and convene together. Strom swears that he had no inside information on what was brewing.
One reason that hearing aid manufacturers and related companies have long promoted a joint meeting was that they were convinced that an event attended by members from both IHS and ADA would attract more dispensing professionals to their exhibits than either organization’s own annual meeting could. There was also an apparent benefit to the organizations, since a larger gathering of professionals might inspire manufacturers to mount larger and better-staffed displays. However, despite the arguments in favor of a combined meeting, it never happened.
NOT A JOINT MEETING, SAY DIRECTORS
The upcoming Unison Hearing Health Global Summit does seem to promise the benefits that HIA envisioned from a joint meeting.
However, in an exchange of e-mails with this blog, ADA’s Stephanie Czuhajewski and IHS’s Kathleen Mennillo stated emphatically, “The Unison Hearing Health Global Summit is not a joint meeting; it is something completely new and unprecedented… Unison is an educational initiative designed to bring together audiologists, hearing aid specialists, physicians and other providers, along with representatives from industry, academia, and consumer organizations, for the purpose of creating an innovative educational experience that will advance best practices in hearing healthcare delivery and meaningful and sustainable patient outcomes.”
Asked what role HIA had played in the agreement between their organizations, Czuhajewski and Mennillo said that while they welcomed HIA’s support for Unison, it was in no sense a broker. They stated, “ADA and IHS leaders determined some time ago that the formation of the Hearing Health Education Coalition as a separate 501 c3 entity would provide the perfect foundation for the Unison Hearing Health Global Summit, which will foster education and a dialogue that is both broad and deep on issues in hearing healthcare, without any appearance of driving specific agendas in relation to sponsoring and partner organizations.”
The directors continued, “The primary focus is to provide unrivaled continuing education and networking opportunities for attendees. The vision for the Unison Summit is that it will go well beyond what is currently found at either the IHS or ADA convention. [it] provides an opportunity for the meaningful exchange of ideas across providers and with input from all stakeholders.”
They added that ADA and IHS would be able to hold members-only activities at Unison, such as their respective annual business meetings and awards banquets.