Hearing professional reaches out to a happy patient

Why Patient Satisfaction is More Important Than Ever

Hearing care professionals practicing independently are facing a rapidly changing landscape for themselves and their patients. People have more options for hearing devices today than ever before, from the severely discounted over-the-counter (OTC) hearing instruments at big box retailers to finding them even cheaper online.
The convenience of selecting hearing aids without the detailed guidance of a hearing care professional is both the appeal and the weakness of these newer avenues. While some customers prefer the directness of the “find your own” option, many are recognizing the need for help with such a significant and individualized decision. A couple of returns later (or worse, getting stuck with instruments that can’t be returned) is driving more than a few former-OTC hearing aid shoppers to local private practices for the hearing care they need.
The personal attention, knowledgeable guidance, and precise testing that hearing care professionals provide their patients cannot (and will never) be replicable with pre-programmed OTC hearing aids. The definition of such hands-on care is outside the scope of the direct-to-consumer model of OTC devices. And while an individualized approach to hearing care might not be the “most efficient” path to better hearing, it will likely always remain the most effective.
Ultimately, the success of any hearing care practice rests upon this effectiveness and, more precisely, the patient satisfaction that it creates.
Ask any hearing professional if their office uses a patient-centered approach to hearing care and the vast majority will tell you, unequivocally, “yes.” It’s a common phrase seen in marketing materials and websites across hearing practices, but in reality, it’s often loosely defined.
The truth is, licensed hearing care professionals of all stripes practice across a wide spectrum of standards. So wide, in fact, that the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) and American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) have been striving to implement their “Best Practice Guidelines” for the last 20 years in an effort to create a common ground for patient-centered care. At its core, these guidelines rest on dispensing hearing aids using evidence-based assessment, measuring, and validation methods for utmost patient satisfaction. According to the lead author of those guidelines, implementation of them occurs in 20-30% of offices, at best.
With the evolution of access to hearing devices underway at this very moment, revisiting the topic of patient satisfaction as a means to practice success is worthwhile. As digital hearing technology continues to unveil faster, cheaper, and smarter instruments, the only way for hearing practices to differentiate is to deliver exceptional personalized service. Below are the four cornerstones of delivering what your patients want.
Personalized Care
However obvious it may be, offering personalized care means that each patient gets detailed attention and care. Personalized care steps beyond individualized care by including a customer intimacy element where provider and patient have some quality face-time to communicate needs and potential solutions. For older patients, especially, getting to spend a few extra minutes with a hearing professional wholly interested in their unique needs and limitations is enough to stand out among the numerous other health care providers they see who rush in and rush out.
Personalized care steps beyond the main caregiver, however, and must include the entire customer-facing team. Everyone in your office must share and exude the ethos of patient-first if the patient is to experience being at the center of the care team. Specifically with treatment protocols known for arousing resistance in patients (e.g. those awkward first few weeks with new hearing aids), increasing the amount of face-to-face communication with your patients has been found to significantly improve patient compliance with recommendations and, ultimately, patient success.
Comfortable Environment
A warm, welcoming environment is essential for patient satisfaction and retention. While it’s easy to imagine what kind of creature comforts would be useful for this goal—such as refreshments in the waiting area, comfortable chairs to relax in, and easy-to-use testing gear—the heart of a comfortable environment is the people working within it.
Beyond the foundations of personalized service, as detailed above, are the softer elements of patient care, often found in the details. A warm rapport for phone and in-person greetings should be tailored with the unique patient population in mind. Training all of front office staff on how to speak and enhance communication with the hard-of-hearing is essential, as is creating communication strategies if any of the common reactions (i.e. avoidance, denial, even hostility) are encountered when working with them as they come for appointments.
Like any business, the more you can cater to the specific needs of your customers, including personalizing them by name, the better their experience will be.
Engaging & Knowledgeable Staff
The personalities and skill of every person on your staff not only conveys the warmth and welcome you want in your office, but also helps your patients overcome any doubt and confusion they might have. Your patients can express their concerns and questions at any point in their journey through your office, be it with a receptionist, assistant, or you.
Offering information to help them better understand their own situation, warmly and empathetically, can go a long way in making them feel supported and well-guided by your entire team. You want your patients to know that they can reach out at any time and to feel confident that they will get the answers they need.
A Brand Centered on You
Remember, the evolving hearing market means that you and your services are now the main attraction. Trying to compete with the price points of local big-box retailers is likely a viable option if you intend to continue offering the standard value-add services for the hearing aids you sell. Differentiating yourself from those large retailers isn’t difficult when you emphasize your personalized and knowledgeable services. Patients value your professional opinion and experience, and recognize that a higher price point is a part of that.
As you design your marketing materials for this new marketplace, be sure to highlight the results you and your office help patients easily achieve. Enjoying natural-sounding results, through a smooth and simple process, is often what OTC hearing aid buyers are longing for. Keep those customer desires in mind as you create your messaging for prospective patients.
The rise of increasingly accessible hearing aids is a positive direction for the hearing market as a whole. As more people wear hearing aids, the more “normal” it will seem, and the stubborn resistance to them will continue to fade. Ultimately, the value of personalized, hands-on service cannot be understated, and the awareness of its value will rise in the contrast of purchasing devices without such care.
Capitalizing on this shift of patient perspectives means paying close attention to the patient experience in your office. Sending a follow-up patient satisfaction survey, or even just a simple email asking how they are feeling about your services, can help you gather important feedback. As you continue delivering excellent services and putting patients first, you will maintain a strong local reputation to continue driving patient inquiries as the market grows.
If you think your practice could be reaching more prospective patients online, consider getting professional help through our wide array of services. Like you, we also make customer satisfaction a priority and consider your success our success. Contact us to get found by new patients online.
 

Woman is buying OTC hearing aids

Marketing Your Practice in a Post-OTC Hearing Aids World

Long before the Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aid Act was signed into law last August, hearing professionals across America were hotly debating its consequences. The legislation drew support from both sides of the aisle and gained notable coverage by the media, raising awareness of both the need for hearing treatment and the potential for more affordable options.
The Act requires the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to create a new class of OTC hearing aids for adults aged 18 and over with mild to moderate loss. While the FDA has at least 3 years to implement this requirement, public and private pressures may very well accelerate their timeline for compliance.
As a practice owner and hearing healthcare professional, the OTC Act poses several new questions for your business. The main consideration is whether you’ll choose to offer OTC hearing aids as part of your product portfolio. Several factors should play into this decision, including a thorough analysis of your local market, your competitor’s offerings, and the overall priorities of your practice.
No matter what you choose, your marketing strategy will need to be tailored to your decision. If your product offerings expand, you’ll want to spread the news. If you decide to target those unaffected by the Act, such as minors and those with severe to profound hearing loss, you’ll need to adjust your ad content and placements. As you evaluate your options for practicing in a post-OTC Act world, consider the following tactics for maintaining a strong marketing strategy.
Be Prepared
Nobody really knows how fast OTC hearing aids will hit the market once the FDA finishes its preparations for this new class of instruments. Large hearing aid companies have already begun to seek partnerships with smaller manufacturers of newer hearing devices, such as hearables, and are aware of the demand awaiting the release of OTC models.
Hearing aid manufacturers are very familiar with the benefits of being “first to market” with any new technology, and value-oriented hearing aids are no exception. Similarly, hearing professionals who proactively position themselves for this shift in the hearing industry will gain as well.
Whether you include OTC hearing aids in your product portfolio or not, you should prepare your marketing strategy well before you need to implement it. If you’re deciding to focus your practice on non-OTC patients, you could even begin that targeting before OTC’s are released. The goal is to catch the wave of patients seeking something specific as soon as they begin to flood the market. Trying to catch up with the tide can be a disappointing struggle.
Service Oriented
Despite the appeal of more affordable and readily accessible OTC hearing aids, consumers have made it clear that they do prefer hands-on service. In fact, a recent study by Indiana University found that patients who received audiologist services along with their new hearing aid were nearly twice as likely to want to keep their hearing aids than those who simply bought preprogrammed OTC devices without any services. Having the help of a professional to reassure, readjust, and respond to questions is a valuable offering that every practice should be highlighting.
Even if you decide to include OTC hearing aids (and especially if you don’t), be sure to tailor your marketing content and website copy to reflect the personalized care you offer. Draw attention to your follow-up support and commitment to patient satisfaction. At the end of the day, OTC hearing aids will never be able to compete with hands-on, patient-centered care.
Get Your Target Right
This might seem overly obvious, but it’s worth calling out: you need to accurately target your market. In fact, your marketing will only ever be as strong as your targeting is. As you endeavor to adjust your marketing to reflect your practice with or without OTC hearing aids, your targeting should shift accordingly.
Maybe you want to just focus on higher-end instruments, thus causing you to target those who can afford them. If you plan to bring OTC hearing aids into your practice, you can cast a wider net with your ad content and placements, but eventually, you should narrow down who tend to be the most responsive to your OTC offerings and target them specifically.
Keep in mind: market targeting is rarely a quick process. For the best results, marketers test ad placements time and time again until they begin to see strong conversion rates. In order to continuously improve your targeting efforts, you need to know where inquiring patients first heard about your services. Was it a Google search? A print ad? Seeing your listing on Yelp, perhaps? Sure, you can conjure up some educated guesses of where your market is most accessible, but that will remain a guess until you can confirm it otherwise.
Reviews Matter
It’s true, we bring this topic up often (see here, here and here). But the truth is, in a post-OTC world, online reviews are more important than ever. More patients will be coming to see you because of the care you provide — not just the products you can get them. And where do people find out about the quality of your care? Yep, online reviews.
The classic approach to getting great reviews by simply giving great service will always remain true. It’s the bedrock of any review management strategy. But with online reviews, there are other important elements (and data) to consider. Did you know that 70% of people are more likely to leave you a review if you simply ask them to? Many business owners fail to take this incredibly simple step to improve their online review status.
Another key element of a successful review strategy is to make leaving you a review efficient and simple. In fact, it’s why we developed this handy tool to make leaving your practice a review a quick 2-click process — directly from your website. Delivering excellent care, asking for patients to share their experience, and then giving them the easiest route to do so is a winning combination for a steady stream of glowing reviews.
As you begin evaluating whether your practice wants to include OTC hearing aids in your offerings or not, consider how your local market would respond to a shift in your marketing approach. For deeper analysis, you could even do a soft test on how they would react to you including some more affordable options (such as PSAPs or custom earbuds) in your lineup. Your goal with any marketing campaign is to track, adjust, and repeat.
OTC hearing aids present both opportunities and challenges for hearing practices, but with the right marketing approach, you can absolutely leverage their availability to benefit your practice and the patients you serve.