by Mike Metz
In April 2016, at the Phoenix Convention Center, the American Academy of Audiology held its 27th annual meeting. The web site promised a large gathering of audiologists and lots of education. It got me wondering. Meeting duration is shortened. Exhibitors were fewer. Statistics on attendance are obscure. What does all this mean for Audiology?
I recall looking forward to the Academy meeting and the chance to get up to date about procedures, directions, and opinions. I think the onset of the “trade show” approach took place about the time of the 5th meeting in Denver. There were so many companies that wanted to exhibit that some took up space on the stairways and in the halls.
Twenty-some years later, the Academy calls their annual professional meeting “AudiologyNow!”. Lots of interest surrounds manufacturers and products. Perhaps 6000 people attended this meeting; many were students and many attended under a manufacturer’s badge. Continuing education credits were issued.
A few years back, the Academy reviewed its ethics stance relative to the annual meeting. A thorough review of ethical literature and practices by other professions lead the Academy to make substantial changes. Among the changes were the elimination of “special manufacturer parties” and the elimination of give-away items—first of moderate value and finally of any value. Also of concern were the content and methods of classes offered by companies that had a vested interest in selling a product or service. In short and in general, the Academy attempted to step up to the level intended by contemporary professional ethical standards.
How many audiology offices are owned or contractually controlled by product manufacturers? According to various sources, this is not a small number of the total private practice audiologists. (You could choose your source and look it up for yourself.) It seems that as more audiologists are developing financial relationships with hearing aid manufacturers, there is a rise in attendance in “professional” meetings hosted by these “manufacturing/distributing partners”. As almost everyone should admit, it’s hard to present scientifically objective information about products from company B at a meeting or class hosted by company A. It is also difficult to present certifiable continuing education when sales methods, marketing information, and proprietary adjustment and manipulations are a significant part of these “get-togethers”.
Placing patient benefit in a secondary position to a manufacturing or distribution relationship would likely appear to most outside observers as a conflict of interest and therefore a violation of professional ethics. Beyond that, there are several other professional concerns, which should be obvious even to the casual observer.
When professional meetings cease to serve the educational and professional needs of members of a field, what actions should result? Specifically, when “hosted” meetings attempt to replace “professional” meetings, are changes required? Do the hosted meetings offering CEUs meet ethical standards? Has AAA, any state, or any other CE provider consulted any CE authority? There is an authority—the International Association of Continuing Education and Training that I think AAA used in the past for guidance.
As a former educator, I take issue with companies that list their marketing and product information efforts as continuing education. While there are many things of value that can be learned from the many audiologists employed by manufacturers, one has to be careful to preserve the essence of continuing education in CE programs. I bet that this essence is not so carefully preserved in “hosted” programs. I heard there were even some of those at AudiologyNow! too.
Is it time to restart a national ethics discussion in audiology? The concepts presented in the 1990s and early 2000s don’t seem to have the desired effect on some things these days. And, observation of the present situations—AudiolgyNow, the FDA PSAP Hearing, etc. gives rise to these ethics-related questions:
- Should instrument-specific or company-specific educational information and/or training qualify for CEUs? And, should there be some limitation on who offers CEUs? (See #4)
- Will PSAPs alter the CE landscape? How can responsible clinicians ignore these devices that have a potential for helping at least some hearing impaired people? Are ethics involved? Who will provide CEUs—the PSAP guys?
- Are there “universal” programming parameters that should be the same for all hearing aids as well as PSAPS? (Like, how about universal access to certain basic and essential acoustic parameters by any software?)
- What are the consequences of professional ethics that reflect the way the “average” member functions rather than the “right” way they should function?
As always, I invite your thoughts, comments, and arguments below. If you don’t say something, I will continue to believe that I am correct in these thoughts. Yikes!
Dr. Metz has been a practicing audiologist for over 45 years, having taught in several university settings and, in partnership with Bob Sandlin, providing continuing education for audiology and dispensing in California for over 3 decades. Mike owned and operated a private practice in Southern California for over 30 years. He has been professionally active in such areas as electric response testing, hearing conservation, hearing aid dispensing, and legal/ethical issues. He continues to practice in a limited manner in Irvine, California.