Trade Shows, Manufacturer Symposia, and Other Professional Dilemmas

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:

 

  1. 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)

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. 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?)

 

  1. 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!

 

Image: AudiologyNow

 

Michael Metz, PhD
Michael Metz, PhD

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.

 


About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

2 Comments

  1. All great points. I think the bigger issue is can a national audiology organization support itself anymore?

    If a national organization is going to switch back to not being manufacturer driven, such as via the trade show, how will it support itself?

    Dues already keep going up and can cost close to $800-$1000 a year depending on how many memberships, certificates and licenses one carries.

    I can 100% be wrong, but I feel there is very much a feeling in the newer graduates of “why do i need all this to practice?” They don’t, they know it and many of them have serious bills pay.

    Should CE revert back to the state level the way California has implemented their CE rules?

    Manufactures have shown they are already less inclined to support audiologynow as seen at this past conference, with some having pulled out because of the “restrictions” put on them or perhaps their cost vs benefit ratio. It is not inexpensive for them to exhibit. Why shouldn’t they “go have their own thing”, and be free from any burdens, but then who has the time to go to “all” the conferences now.

    At the end of the day, our profession is in truth still a “state level”, licensed profession, despite all these years and attempts to make it a national one. There is zero incentive to keep AAA, ASHA CCC-s or ABA certification other than professional pride, Especially when costs keep going up. It is indeed a tough place for the profession to be in.

  2. I have been concerned since the previous Exec Dir coined the term “AudiologyNow” for our annual meeting. The manufacturers and the exhibit hall became the main focus of the meeting rather than the professional and scientific presentations. The Academy annual meeting became a ‘trade show’ rather than a professional conference. It is time to re-evaluate our annual conference and give us back our professionalism….

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