At the conclusion of 2021, I found myself absorbed in the painful but necessary process of analyzing year end data trying to assess the health of the business. While the numbers were better than the previous year, they weren’t what I would have liked. Hoping to uncover some hidden revenues, I wondered how I could increase the profitability of this business. Business experts contend there are in fact only four ways to increase the profitability of a business:
- Increase the number of customers
- Reduce expenses
- Increase the average sale per customer
- Increase the frequency of sales per customer
While completing my AuD degree, I conducted a time study of the types of activities audiologists in various types of practice settings perform on a daily basis. Data revealed the audiologists spent more than one third, and probably closer to one half, of their work days performing minor, time consuming tasks that could have been performed by lesser qualified individuals. It would seem that delegating those tasks to support personnel would allow professionals to see more patients; potentially generating more revenue, which logically could lead to an increase in profitability. Most other medical and allied health professions have well developed technician positions – physicians, nurses, optometrists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dentists, veterinarians. Just imagine how many more patients you could see if you didn’t have to clean hearing aids, complete order and repair forms, set up testing procedures, troubleshoot equipment, teach patients how to clean, insert and remove hearing aids. Not to mention demonstrating how to use remote controls, wireless accessories, t-coils, rehab programs, loop systems and other assistive devices. With this type of assistance, the professional can spend more time providing patients with vitally needed services such as family counseling, outlining realistic expectations, performing speech in noise testing, or assessing central processing function.
The use of support personnel in hearing healthcare practices is still considered by some to be controversial despite the fact that the concept has been endorsed by every professional hearing healthcare organization for the past forty years! With the burgeoning need for hearing healthcare services and a potential shortage of qualified professionals, the best way to increase productivity and profitability of a business may be to hire support personnel. I have heard rumblings from colleagues that their state license will not allow them to use support personnel. In fact, I have found just the opposite to be true.
I was forced to add support personnel to my practice many years ago. The steady growth of the practice and the lack of audiologists in the small community in which my business is located necessitated the need to hire support personnel to perform tasks that did not require the education and expertise of an audiologist. However, as the practice continued to grow, it became evident that the use of support personnel improved productivity, service accessibility, quality of patient care, and patient satisfaction.
While the concept of using support personnel is not widespread, a review of practices today indicate support personnel are being used successfully in a variety of practice settings including the military, the VA, educational institutions, hospitals, industrial settings, and private practices. In fact, using support personnel can provide valuable assistance to professionals by increasing patient contact hours, reducing wait time and improving patient satisfaction.
The hearing healthcare professional must maintain the clinical authority and legal responsibility over the support personnel and is morally responsible for these individuals. The hearing healthcare professional must also ensure that good quality of patient care is maintained. Adequate and continual training is also essential.
Examples of the types of services an assistant can perform after appropriate training and demonstration of competency include:
- Equipment maintenance
- Hearing aid cleaning and repair
- Hearing aid orientation
- Neonatal screening
- Preparation of patient for electrophysiological and balance testing
- Hearing conservation
- Assisting the audiologist in testing children
Record-keeping, assisting in clinical research, clerical duties such as completing all paperwork and other administrative support functions can be delegated to the assistant after full and complete training and delineation of supervisory needs by the audiologist.
The age of using support personnel in hearing healthcare practice has arrived and in fact, is well overdue. Using our time to focus on activities that best utilize our education and expertise and delegating lesser tasks can be a big step toward increasing productivity.