What’s your strategy?

The hearing healthcare industry is changing.  When I started my business, I was the only audiologist in a county of 150,000 and now I have seven competitors within  seven miles.

Competition is increasing; Big Box stores are killing us on price; hearing aids are literally available everywhere; insurance companies are turning over their hearing benefits to internet providers; OTC legislation is on the horizon; reimbursement that we do receive is declining and yet, the percentage of people with hearing loss that get hearing aids is not increasing. All of these factors can make it difficult to operate a profitable practice.  For many years, hearing healthcare professionals have had the luxury of being in a high margin, low volume business but the trends have changed and practice owners are being forced to do more for less. Consequently, every practice owner needs a strategy for maximizing profitability.


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How much did you say it cost?!!

 

According to industry statistics, less than 30% of people that need hearing aids actually purchase them and if you believe what you hear or read on social media, it’s all about the money.  OTCs, TPAs, Big Box retail must also believe that money is the biggest objection because they certainly have impacted the market by appealing to consumers who are concerned about price.

If you recommend hearing aids, you have heard a patient object to the cost of hearing healthcare. To me, the real question when a patient presents the price objection is whether the patient doesn’t have the money, doesn’t want to spend the money or doesn’t feel the hearing aids are worth the money. The only way to uncover the answer is to ask questions.  Regardless of the stated objection, in the majority of cases, money is at least part of the issue.


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What do you mean you don’t want hearing aids?

 You may dread having to tell a patient that you diagnosed a hearing problem and then have to suggest that the patient purchase a plan for hearing help which usually includes hearing aids. Most patients don’t jump up and down and say, “That’s awesome news” or “Oh boy, I can’t wait to spend thousands of dollars for the help you suggest that I need.” The most common response when you explain the test results and suggest that the patient could benefit from hearing help in the form of hearing aids is that the solution costs too much money.  Unfortunately, it’s a fact that many of the patients we see won’t actually want the help we recommend. Hearing aids aren’t something people usually want but since 90+% of patients with hearing loss have sensory loss, the only way to actually help a patient is to convince them to get hearing aids.


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Who doesn’t like Cake?

I don’t like to bake but this is my favorite kind of cake!

Everyone seems to struggle getting new patients in the door and with the myriad of mediums, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine where to place the message.

There is no one or easy answer to the chaos called marketing and unfortunately, nothing seems to work consistently.   To reach the intended audience, it’s necessary to combine multiple messages to have an impact on prospective patients and that’s where the cake comes in – It takes many layers to have a really good outcome.  I know my family is pretty much set on chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting – better not be that whipped cream stuff – while some people prefer other flavors and fillings.   The point is that you have to have enough different approaches so that your message shines thru the chaos.


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Hearing Professionals: Join the Sapphire Society where I provide incredible resources you can use to take your practice from Fine to Fabulous.”


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A Key To Success

I am often asked, “What’s the key to success?”  Being a top notch professional always comes first, but running a close second is having a key employee who is friendly, efficient and capable of performing a multitude of duties in the practice. Most practices employ at least one person in addition to the owner and in a busy practice this employee becomes a key component of the success of the practice.

While duties may vary by practice setting, there is no doubt that this employee is a key component of a successful practice. This key person may hold the title of receptionist but regardless of the title, the role remains the same: to develop good patient relationships, generate leads from current patients, and to ensure that the office runs smoothly on a daily basis.  Having a key employee should allow an owner or manager to spend more time doing what he or she does best, which is providing exceptional patient care and generating sufficient revenue to make the practice profitable.

One very important task for a key employee is to squeeze every productive moment out of the schedule. Let the employee know your expectations for scheduling and help them understand the need to confirm appointments at least 24 hours in advance, preferably 48 hours, and then to make every effort to fill last minute cancellations.   Every open appointment time is a loss of potential revenue. An employee who can skillfully juggle the busy schedule of a productive office is a valuable asset.  However, some employees fail to hustle to fill vacancies because they don’t see it as a priority and actually may think you really enjoy the free time.

The way your phone is answered may not be something you give a lot of thought or attention to, but it can have a tremendous impact on the business. Ever been caught in the seemingly endless loop of an automated system?  Press 1 for this and 2 for this and 12 for….   Imagine using such a system when you have difficulty hearing!  A telephone call is often the first impression a potential patient has of you and your organization. Sure, they might be familiar with your name, have driven by your office, or visited your website but a phone call is typically the first real interaction a potential patient has with their hearing healthcare professional. Whether this experience is warm, positive, and memorable is highly dependent upon the individual who answers the phone in the practice. The right person can make all the difference in the world, while the wrong person can drive potential patients away forever.

A key employee can assist with marketing, handling your personal schedule, ordering supplies, checking on orders, and many other functions that will allow you to spend more quality time with your patients.  If you are wondering what an average wage is for a key employee, check the latest Occupational Outlook Handbook http://www.bls.gov/ooh/ to learn what a typical pay scale is for your particular state. Talented key employees can more than pay for themselves through their contribution to the growth and success of a practice. The key employee can also serve as a patient recall specialist by going through the records and recalling patients who haven’t been in for a re-evaluation and may be candidates for new hearing technology. Compensation may include bonuses for getting patients you have lost touch with back into the practice.

There is no one answer when someone asks what the key is to a successful practice, but certainly having an employee you can count on is a good first step.Number One

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How happy are your employees?

 

From everything I see and hear, it’s a tough time to find an employee. I have read that 50% of interviewees don’t even show up for their interview.  My baby boomer guilt would never allow me to do that

Employee management is not something I enjoy or am comfortable with.  To be honest, there are so many things to do that I don’t like spending my time in the HR Department but I have learned over the years that if your employees aren’t happy, your patients won’t be happy either. It’s important to give every member of your team the opportunity and freedom to grow and thrive in their work environment. The first step in this process is developing very specific job descriptions. Sometimes I expect my employees to simply know what I want them to do and become irritated when they don’t respond the way I expect them to.

It’s really important to outline a method for communicating with employees to give them feedback on their work performance and to get them to share their thoughts with you. We hold staff meetings once a month to discuss what has gone wrong and also to share what has gone right. Our work days get busy and there isn’t always time to discuss the day’s events but it’s important to discuss the positives and negatives.  If you don’t discuss them, they are likely to reoccur which can be a problem in the case of the  issues that didn’t contribute to patient care.

I recall many a conversation with a colleague when we both were complaining about an employee’s performance.  Things will never improve if you don’t talk with the employee and share thoughts of how you would  like things to improve.  A specific action plan should be put into place with a deadline to give the employee the opportunity to improve their performance. The plan should also include what will happen if performance doesn’t improve and then, of course, it’s critical to stick to the plan.

In my practice, we have measureable goals and make certain every member of the team has a role in reaching those goals.  These goals aren’t just sales objectives but include goals of improving patient satisfaction, converting more calls to appointments and reducing the number of patients who seldom wear their hearing aids. Every employee knows and understands that their performance is important and critical to the success of the organization. When we reach our goals, we celebrate by giving bonuses, going out to dinner or getting a day off. I also have fun planning Employee Appreciation Days.  These have sometimes been unexpected events that have included bowling parties, visits to a casino, concert tickets, scavenger hunts and time at local spas to name a few.

When things don’t go well and the team doesn’t reach its goal, we put our heads together and share ideas on what went wrong and put a plan in place to improve.

Of course, employees always enjoy a free day off.  I once asked my employees to identify three things that would improve the experience for our patients and an additional three things that would improve their work experience.  One of them suggested that PHS should give their employees their birthdays off.  “No problem,”  I thought.  That’s a simple thing to do as long as you have the staff to cover the time off without it affecting productivity.

While managing employees may not be the easiest job we have, it’s certainly one of the most important. Everyone wins when the team works together to make patients happy!

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