If you could be granted just one wish what would it be? My one wish would definitely be for more hours in every day. Regardless of how early I rise or how late I stay up, there are never enough hours in the day to accomplish what I want to accomplish. I just can’t seem to have enough time to see patients, work on the business aspects of my practice, research and implement the new ideas that I envision and I even have many employees to assist me! There is always more to do.
I recall a time about five years after I started my practice when my patient base really started to grow and I simply didn’t have enough time to take care of patients and to handle the financial aspects of the practice, marketing, calling on referral sources, managing employees, and sending reports just to name a few of my many obligations. I was overwhelmed and realized I couldn’t continue at my current pace or I would get burnt out very quickly. So, I took some time to assess the time I was spending on tasks that I didn’t feel required my education and expertise.
I conducted a month long time study in an attempt to determine which tasks I could delegate to an assistant without compromising the quality of patient care. The results of that investigation were shocking! I concluded that I was spending more than 50% of my time completing minor, time consuming tasks that did not require my level of education or expertise. That’s when I hired my first assistant and I identified then and continue to believe that incorporating audiology assistants has been and continues to be instrumental to the growth and success of my practice.
Most other medical and allied health professions have well developed positions for assistants – optometrists, chiropractors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dentists, veterinarians not to mention physicians. Just imagine how many additional patient appointments you could complete if you didn’t have to clean hearing aids, complete order and repair forms, set up testing procedures, troubleshoot equipment, conduct hearing aid orientations, stock supplies, not to mention other time consuming tasks such as demonstrating the use of Bluetooth accessories, t-coils, remote controls, loop systems and other assistive devices. With the support of an assistant, it’s possible to spend more time diagnosing problems, discussing possible solutions, outlining realistic expectations and providing patients with vitally needed services such as family counseling, communication techniques and coping strategies.
For the past thirty plus years, I have employed at least one, and currently employ three assistants in my practice. The use of assistants is still considered by some to be controversial despite the fact that the concept has been endorsed by every professional organization for more than forty years! I know some colleagues worry that the use of assistants will undermine their authority and lessen the need for audiologists. I have not found that to be true and in fact, I have found the use of assistants to be invaluable to patient satisfaction, productivity and profitability of the practice.
With the burgeoning need for audiology services and a potential shortage of audiologists, the best way to increase productivity and profitability of a business is incorporate more assistants into every type of clinical practice setting. Of course, the legality of using an assistant is determined by state licensure laws. A state by state list of licensure requirements for assistants can be found at https://www.asha.org/advocacy/state/.
While the use of an assistant is currently employed less than 50% of the time, there are many practice settings that utilize assistants quite successfully. These include the military, the VA, educational institutions, hospitals, industrial settings, ENT practices and private practices. Many investigations over the years have found that using assistants can provide valuable assistance to audiologists by increasing patient contact hours, reducing patient wait times and improving patient satisfaction.
In case you are wondering how you could possibly incorporate an audiology assistant into your work setting, task forces over the years have suggested tasks that they deem appropriate to delegate to an assistant after full and complete training while under the supervision of an audiologist: record-keeping; assisting in clinical research; clerical duties such as completing paperwork; assisting with pediatric and difficult to test patients; and other various administrative support functions. A reminder that specific duties will be determined by your state licensure laws.
When I compare the scope of practice of an audiologist when I entered practice many years ago with our scope today, there is no doubt in my mind that it is time to embrace the concept of using assistants in any and all clinical practice settings. It’s doesn’t have to be wishful thinking. It can be a reality that is long overdue.