The fact is OTC aids are here to stay. As a person that tries to be ahead of the curve, I investigate and contemplate how to handle this new era in hearing healthcare.
I’m sitting here with my current price sheet trying to determine what to change. Unbundle? Itemize? Stay the same? I agree with the looming voices that say “Change is needed,” but what’s the best approach? When things are going well in business, I don’t think it’s prudent to completely upset the apple cart, but I do agree that we have to show value for all the services we provide and demystify what’s included in the investment in a Hearing Rehabilitation Plan.
I have an unbundling option and the people that choose it don’t return for regular visits, so I believe that unbundling in an established practice will result in reduced revenue for a period of time. That’s fine if the business can survive without that revenue and if it can’t then increased marketing dollars will be necessary to attract new patients to make up that lost revenue.
I know some colleagues believe that OTCs will cause more patients to seek our services but I don’t agree. First of all, if a device “doesn’t work”, I think patients will give up and wait to seek help from a professional. Amyn Amlani predicts in a recent edition of Hearing Health and Technology Matters that providers who fit their patients with OTC devices in their practices can expect roughly a 5% to 7% increase in first-time users entering the market, with a conversation rate of about 30% of OTC users transitioning to traditional hearing aids on an annual basis. Sounds great and I hope it happens but I am doubtful.
I have no opposition to including OTCs in my product mix, but obviously, getting OTCs from a hearing healthcare provider is going to be more expensive then buying them off a rack in Walgreen’s because I can’t recommend them without a current audiogram and I’m not so sure consumers seeking low price options will want to pay for that. In the Humes study, every patient had a hearing evaluation by a professional. I have to believe that’s a key component of success with OTCs.
How do I get the word out that I offer OTCs as part of my product mix? We have hired a social media consultant and we have an online store, BUT it’s difficult to get noticed when competing against mass marketing from giants like Apple, Walgreen’s, Walmart, Amazon, and whomever else decides to sell OTCs.
We’ve experienced competition from manufacturers with their hearing networks and now a couple of the Big Six are going to be manufacturing OTCs. No surprise – business is just business no matter what business you are in. BUT it will get increasingly difficult to know who to do business with. If manufacturers can produce good products at very low prices then why do they charge us so much? It’s getting increasingly difficult to make a profit in business with reimbursement declining, competition increasing and myriads of online providers that don’t want to pay much for services. It still costs me the same to operate my practice. My employees expect the same benefits and nice salaries. I still need the same margins to survive. So, I think we will have to choose to do business with the manufacturers that support independents.
So, what to do? I can only come up with one answer. I have to continue to Be The Best in Hearing Healthcare offering More to patients without increasing prices. We must provide products that we can prove provide benefit and guarantee exceptional customer service. I have to stay in touch with my patients and ask if they are satisfied and be their beacon for information in hearing healthcare. I have to offer more to help patients adapt and get the most from their technology – programs like Nancy Tye Murray’s ClEAR.
While I don’t have a crystal ball that shows the future, I continue to be optimistic about the future of hearing healthcare.