The impact of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe has been swift and severe. Many countries have instructed ‘non-essential’ businesses to close and have issued ‘shelter in place’ orders for their citizens to remain at home except to get food or medicine, in an effort to reduce spread of the virus.
In addition to the immediate concern over health, the economic toll of the virus has yet to be fully realized. With the elderly population being among the most at-risk for the COVID-19 virus, this presents a particularly unique challenge for the hearing healthcare industry— to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, but also meet the communication needs of one of the largest demographics they serve.
To see how the hearing industry is responding to the crisis, HHTM President, Kevin Liebe, reached out to several industry leaders to find out and share with our readers.
How Phonak is responding to COVID-19
Kevin, first I want to thank you and the team at HHTM for the opportunity to provide this information to our valued customers. The need for more information during this crisis is top-of-mind for everyone, especially for the many small business owners and independent hearing care professionals who are at the heart of this industry.
Communication is key, and that’s why I’m pleased to share some of the steps Phonak has taken to respond to COVID-19 and reinforce our commitment to supporting our customers every step of the way.
Small Business Financial Relief Seminar
Among our customers’ top requests has been the need to better understand the various financial resources that are being made available to practices to help them through this time. On April 9 at noon EDT and April 14 at 10:00 a.m. EDT, Phonak is hosting an online seminar covering available programs from the federal government, the Small Business Administration, banks, financial institutions, and many individual state programs.
Online Trainings to “Build Up Your Business”
Phonak has always offered a very robust training curriculum, but when staying at home and social distancing became the new reality, our team of clinical trainers, audiologists and other industry experts jumped into fifth gear.
Our new “Build Up Your Business” courses cover some of our most-requested topics including Digital Marketing, Differentiating Your Practice, Mining Your Database and so much more. We’re proud to say that our expanded online training classes including Remote Support and eSolutions trainings have been attended by nearly 2,000 customers in less than three weeks!
Accelerating delivery of eSolutions
Expanding the capabilities of eSolutions, including remote support technology has very quickly moved from a nice-to-have for some to a near necessity for all. In the U.S. alone, Phonak Remote Support usage was up nearly 500% from February through March!
For this reason, Phonak is expediting the development and delivery of our eSolutions to include expanded digital support services for our customers and their patients. Today we have the tools to support any existing patient and new patient in trial completely digitally. Very soon, we’ll be announcing the rollout of even more solutions to help our customers engage with patients completely from the comfort of their home.
Expanding Practice & Patient Support
As announced earlier this week, Phonak is further expanding support services for customers and their patients. Last month, we began waiving all fees associated with shipping a repaired product or supplies directly to a patient’s home with no signature required. At our customer’s request, we’re now coordinating repair logistics for a patient from start to finish. We’re also developing additional tools for professionals and patients including infection control guidelines for handling hearing products, informative blog posts dedicated to navigating COVID-19 and plenty more.
Phonak’s COVID-19 Information Hub
As I stated earlier, right now the need for information is high and hence communication is key. Our team developed a central repository to house all things COVID-19-related so that our customers no longer have to dig through emails to find the latest announcement or search online to find when the next class is. The new Info Hub will cover the above topics and will be updated on a regular basis. It’s accessible via PhonakPro.com and can be directly accessed by going to www.phonakpro-us.com/covid-19.
How is Oticon is Preparing its Business and Staff to Support Hearing Care professionals During the COVID-19 crisis?
Oticon has transformed its commercial team into a virtual customer support organization. Our entire account management and field training teams are engaging with hearing care professionals on a daily basis through virtual solutions to respond to their needs as they face this very challenging public health crisis.
Our customer service, client systems, and audiology technical support staff are working virtually from home offices to address issues associated with orders, fitting questions, software questions, and other queries. Our operations team in Somerset, New Jersey, has implemented a host of measures to ensure prompt delivery of our products – all in compliance with strict CDC guidelines and to some extent, our measures are even more stringent.
Our global supply chain is fully operational, as inventories centrally and locally remain at appropriate levels to secure timely delivery. Most importantly, last week Oticon launched Oticon RemoteCare, a software solution that lets hearing care professionals hold a virtual appointment with selected clients, where they can remotely adjust and fine-tune their hearing aids to ensure a better fit.
Supporting Hearing Professionals
Since the start of the crisis, Oticon has taken several specific steps to support hearing care professionals:
- First, Oticon fast-tracked the US launch of Oticon RemoteCare. Launched on March 25, this software solution lets hearing care professionals hold a virtual appointment with selected clients, where they can remotely adjust and fine-tune their hearing aids to ensure a better fit. Oticon has already successfully piloted and launched RemoteCare in other countries around the world.
- Oticon has hosted two webinars entitled Covid19: Implications for Small Businesses on March 27 and April 1. The webinars allowed hearing care professionals to hear from Oticon Inc.’s President and internal legal counsel as well as Oticon Inc.’s external team of legal experts on the legal issues and opportunities associated with this crisis and the US government’s response: the CARES Act.
- To help with patients who cannot get to the HCP’s office, Oticon has temporarily updated its warranty and hearing aid terms:
- Trial periods and Return for Credit privileges can be extended 60 days past the initial 90 days
- Warranties can be extended 60 days past the current expiration date
- Loss and Damage coverage will be extended 60 days past the current expiration date.
- Oticon has changed its product repair and corresponding support process to accommodate the shelter-in-place, stay home directives enacted in many locations
- For existing repair orders, Oticon can ship the repaired instruments directly to the patient
- For new repair orders, Oticon can receive products directly from the patient and, once repaired, can ship back directly to the patient
- Oticon has allowed customers to use balances in their Business Enhancement Support (BES) account to pay outstanding bills
How do you think the industry’s and Oticon’s response to the crisis will impact hearing care in the future?
I believe that the use of tele-health solutions in audiology, like Oticon RemoteCare, will be widely accepted in the future by both hearing care professionals and their patients. Today, when phone and video are an important part of staying in touch, communicating through quality hearing care solutions and connectivity accessories has never been more important.
Tele-health solutions launched by hearing aid manufacturers have existed for the last several years, yet the usage was sparse, as the need for the solution was not immediately apparent. Given the crisis we are all enduring, where people are forced to stay home, a strong need for tele-health in audiology has materialized. It’s likely that hearing care professionals will adopt these solutions immediately in order to interact with their patients and continue to deliver excellent hearing healthcare services. This may increase the comfort level of both the hearing care professional and the patient, leading to more regular use of tele-health once the crisis is over.
What I am confident will not change is the critical importance of the hearing care professional in the process. I firmly believe that the best patient experiences result from the personal relationship patients develop with their hearing care professional and, regardless of the delivery method, the hearing care professional’s expertise, compassion and commitment to better their patients hearing health will always remain at the center.
Starkey’s Response to the COVID – 19 Crisis
I often use the phrase, “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” Never has that been more relevant than it is right now. While this crisis is like nothing we’ve ever seen, I take comfort in the fact that we’re in it together, and we’re going to get through it—together.
At Starkey, we are working hard to continue to help our partners serve their patients at a time when social distancing is preventing many from having face-to-face appointments.
We’ve created a comprehensive resource page to provide hearing professionals with up-to-date information and expert recommendations on navigating this crisis as both a small business owner and a hearing healthcare practitioner. We made it easier for providers and their patients to ship their hearing devices directly for repairs. We’ve also moved our trainings online, so they can maximize the use of this time to earn CEUs and learn about the growing number of ways in which our new hearing technology can benefit patients. In fact, since this crisis began, we’ve already trained thousands of hearing professionals in several subject areas, including telehealth technology.
Most recently, we released our Hearing Care Anywhere remote programming technology for all patients across all technology tiers of our Livio, Livio AI and Livio Edge AI hearing aids. Through this latest update, even patients whose devices were not originally configured for remote programming are now able to receive care from their hearing healthcare providers from the comfort of their homes. Using the Thrive app, hearing professionals can resume service appointments and care without the need for an in-office visit.
Despite the heartache this crisis is causing, I believe we have no choice but to remain optimistic that the hearing industry will emerge stronger than ever. As hearing professionals, we are a resilient group of individuals driven by a common purpose and passion: to help people live better lives. There is nothing more honorable than that.
In the days and weeks ahead, we at Starkey want you to know that we are here for you, and we are ready to help you in any way we can. I look forward to the day when we can once again gather and share what we’ve learned from this experience.
Together, we will get through this unprecedented challenge and grow in ways that will take us even further in our journey to help people hear better, so they can live better.
Audigy’s Response to COVID-19
When we first began to get an understanding of what was happening with the coronavirus pandemic across the globe and how it would ultimately affect the lives and businesses of not only our Members, but the entire industry, the first thought that came to mind was, “How can we help?”
Our team quickly pivoted to a fully virtual work-from-home structure so we could just as quickly use our resources, platforms, and know-how to create a sense of stability for practices inside and outside of the Audigy family.
To be clear, our Members are our priority, but in a time like this, it’s imperative we recognize that we’re a community of professionals who all need guidance in navigating COVID-19.
Therefore, we feel it’s our responsibility to do more than just weather this storm — we want to do all we can to set the practices of our industry up for success so that they can make the appropriate business considerations during and after this outbreak that will foster the sustainable growth we know is soon coming.
There is a great deal of opportunity to be had if we’re focused on the right things and making the right choices for our businesses, our teams, and our patients. So those are the precise things we’ve been highlighting and sharing with the industry over the last several weeks across numerous resources and mediums.
More than anything else, our Members are asking us for guidance and consideration on the following three topics:
- What legislative developments do we need to be aware of and what do they mean for my business and for my team?
- What operational and financial considerations should I focus on now for a better tomorrow?
- What marketing considerations make the most sense given our current situation?
In order to best answer these questions, we’ve created a series of webinars (live and recorded), blogs, aggregated newsletters, and other resources that are completely driven by our teams of specialists spanning across operations, finance, marketing, human resources, and learning and development. This isn’t unusual for Audigy. If anything, we’ve tried to increase our communication and our visibility to our Members and to others in the industry because we see how certain businesses are thriving, whereas certain others are struggling, and we want to put the best considerations in front of everyone is as many formats as possible so that we all have the latest and best information on a consistent basis.
People Still Need Care
The bottom line for practices out there is that, while factors do differ on a state-by-state basis, people out there do need and want your care. In fact, they need to be able to clearly communicate with loved ones and others in their lives now perhaps more than ever.
Maybe you can’t serve them today, or maybe you need to be nimble enough to shift to drive-up or telehealth services if those are applicable in your state, but there will undoubtedly be a wave of care needing to be accommodated in the coming months that we simply must be prepared for, and it all boils down to the considerations we’re making today that will determine how we will best be able to serve them tomorrow and beyond.
We’re in uncharted waters in our lifetimes. That much is clear. But we can weather this together. And our businesses can be stronger than ever. By combining the clinical expertise of our Members, the business acumen of our teams and specialists, the reach of our global manufacturing partners, and the strength of community, we see a light at the end of the tunnel that represents a bright future for us all.
Signia: Supporting Your Practice Now, While Preparing for the Future
The spread of the COVID-19 virus has brought much disruption to the world. Like so many other areas, the hearing industry is seriously affected. However, it’s important to remain positive and do what we can to support the people who rely on us to help them hear.
Signia takes this mission very seriously. After all, there is still a great deal that hearing care professionals can do for their patients today, while preparing themselves for success when conditions improve. That’s why we’ve implemented a number of initiatives to help our hearing aid professional partners – and the patients who rely on them.
Supporting Providers and Patients
Early on in this crisis, we created a new Practice Development resource center, a one-stop-shop with tools to support their business. These include resources about TeleCare, Signia’s remote hearing care solution that enables hearing care professionals to service patients remotely. With many hearing aid wearers unwilling to leave their homes, and many practices closing their doors, this is a vital service for providing patients the care they need during this time. We also created new webinars via AudiologyOnline to help providers quickly and easily adopt this solution if they haven’t already.
At this time of uncertainty, communication is so important, but might not always be a priority for every practice. Signia sought to make this easier, providing email and social media templates practices can use to inform their patients about their availability and the services they can still provide.
To further support hearing aid wearers, we introduced a new direct-to-patient repair service. This allows patients to mail their hearing aids directly to our office and receive their repaired devices at home. We’ve also extend our patient trial periods by 30 days, to give patient and provider alike more flexibility.
Focus on Today, with an Eye to the Future
While Signia is doing everything we can to support providers during this crisis, we also remind them to keep an eye on the future so they can be ready to bounce back. Here are some ways to make that happen.
Embrace the use of remote care
Fortunately, those who use TeleCare now will be ahead of the curve, as remote hearing care will continue to play an important role going forward. As the downstream consequences of untreated hearing loss, such as cognitive decline, depression, and social isolation, become more well-known, the demand for a baseline hearing test is likely to rise.
Since most clinics are not equipped to meet a growing demand for in-person tests, tele-audiology allows people to conduct their own self-guided hearing test. When combined with tools such as CEDRA, remote hearing tests, such as those provided by Shoebox, could meet a growing demand for people to monitor their hearing, and, in turn, be used as a type of lead generator or triage for clinics who could then provide an array for personalized services for those in need for in-person care.
Focus on hearing aid success
When practices re-open their doors, they may find that remote fine tuning has the potential to improve patient outcomes. Findings from the 2010 MarkeTrak VIII survey (Figure 1) suggest that hearing aid wearers tend to be more successful when they visit an office for hearing aid adjustments less often. It stands to reason, based on these findings, that if remote fine-tuning can reduce the number of in-person visits during the initial few months of hearing aid use, success with hearing aids can be improved, while freeing up more time for patient and provider alike.
Leverage third-party insurance sources
Gus Mueller’s latest 20Q interview with HIA Director, Kate Carr, addresses the rising popularity of third-party insurance benefits for hearing aids among consumers. Given the economic downturn facing us over the next several months, a mounting number of persons with hearing loss are likely to be relying on these Medicare Advantage programs to save money on their next set of hearing aids. Thus, it’s essential for providers to implement business strategies that allow them to utilize third-party sources, such as TruHearing, efficiently and profitability.
Things Will Get Better
As we navigate this storm of uncertainty, it’s a good time to think about how we can better serve all persons with measured hearing loss and perceived hearing difficulties when things get better. Practices that are proactive at this today, will be better suited to serve current and new patients going forward.