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.
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.
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.