by Gyl Kasewurm, AuD
I have spent too much time lately on social media and I am not sure if I should jump for joy or jump off a bridge! What we read can have a big impact on how we conduct business whether we realize it or not, but much of what we read isn’t fact. So, we have to be cautious in what we believe and be careful not to let other people’s opinions guide the way we operate our businesses.
One thing is true, this industry is definitely changing and while change can pose some threats to business, it can also bring new opportunities. It’s all a matter of how you look at the situation. Yes, hearing healthcare providers are facing more competition than ever before. It seems that everyone is getting into the business of hearing healthcare. Big Box stores like Costco are experiencing steady growth, in fact, Costco has the fastest growing segment of the hearing aid market. The Hearing Review recently estimated Costco’s US market share to be around 11% of total sales. I don’t know about you, but I would do cartwheels if my practice experienced that kind of growth in a year (it would not be a good thing for me to do cartwheels at my age☺).
However, while we could worry about the growth of Big Box stores and the imminent threat of OTCs that will appear everywhere once legislation is finalized in 2020, other retailers are getting out of the hearing healthcare business. CVS recently closed all their hearing aid stores and a local chain in my area of the country (Meijer) also shut down their hearing aid business. They, apparently, are figuring out that operating a profitable hearing health practice isn’t as easy as they thought.
Big Box and other retailers may benefit from upcoming legislation that will allow the sale of OTC hearing aids. But wait, haven’t we seen ads for hearing aids in all types of publications and on the internet for a long time? So what is so new about OTCs? In my opinion, these devices have always been available but they likely will become even more prevalent with the impending new legislation.
So, how is one supposed to compete when faced with these obstacles?
How to Build a Thriving Practice
First I will suggest how not to compete. I see colleagues attempting to battle by waging a price war with their low-cost rivals. I’m pretty good at math and unless you are able to triple the number of patients walking through your doors, there is NO WAY that an average practice can compete with Costco hearing aid prices.
I don’t care which buying group you belong to or what manufacturers you work with, it’s impossible to maintain a profitable practice when your ASP is similar to Big Box prices. Costco has millions of people walking through their doors every day and devices often sell for less than hearing healthcare professionals pay for similar products.
So how do we come out ahead in this situation?
We win the battle the way every successful business overcomes similar battles – by doing a great job with every patient; by being friendly and welcoming; by providing outrageous service; and by insuring best practices are completed for every patient.
First impressions are lasting ones. How many of you have a written protocol for staff instructing them on how you want patients greeted? I walked into a healthcare practice recently and immediately after I entered the receptionist got up off of her chair and welcomed me, showed me where to sit and then asked me if she could get me a cup of coffee while I completed a very small amount of paperwork. Nice!
Why doesn’t my staff do that when a patient comes in? The answer is because I haven’t made it clear that’s how I want patients to be greeted.
Businesses survive when they provide the very Best in Hearing Healthcare. Not everyone wants Cheap when it comes to their hearing healthcare. At least in my practice, there are patients that are willing to pay for quality care – our expertise, an amazing experience, over the top service and a commitment to 100% patient satisfaction.
A top quality practice and professional is still attractive to consumers who want “The Best”.
There is a strong relationship between excellence in hearing healthcare, benefit, and improvement in quality of life derived from better hearing.
Benefits always outweigh price in this industry, so instead of lowering prices, perhaps the focus should be on adhering to a protocol consisting of a comprehensive test battery including measures of loudness discomfort and speech-in-noise testing and in depth real-ear measurements to ensure that patients are getting optimal benefit from their hearing aids.
I have decided after considering all the obstacles that there are still plenty of opportunities in this profession. I guess I won’t jump off that bridge just yet. I will spend less time on the internet and more time making my practice The Best of the Best in Hearing Healthcare!
Gyl Kasewurm, AuD, has owned and operated Professional Hearing Services (PHS) in Saint Joseph, Michigan for many years. The practice is known as a benchmark for the patient experience across the country. Dr Kasewurm has a Master’s Degree from Western Michigan University and went on to receive her Doctorate in Audiology from Central Michigan University. Kasewurm served on the Executive Board of the American Academy of Audiology for five years and is a Past President of the Michigan Academy of Audiology. Dr. Kasewurm has earned many awards and honors including a Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Academy of Audiology but is most proud of the Leadership Award that was bestowed upon her by her local Chamber of Commerce. She was also recently honored as a Distinguished Alumnus by the Health and Human Services Department at Western Michigan University, an honor only bestowed on 98 of 17,000 graduates. Dr. Kasewurm is a well-known author and sought after speaker and prides herself on her advice on taking a practice from Fine to Fabulous!