Helping patients to move toward hearing devices isn’t always a cut-and-dry process. It takes time, energy, and a combination of in-office appointments and Remote Support sessions.
Imagine this scene: A new patient has scheduled a hearing aid evaluation. You give them a complete diagnostic – your best counseling – and everyone is on board that there is a hearing issue that IS creating communication barriers, but the patient decides not to purchase. Why? What else could you have done? We’ve all been here, right?!
Well, unfortunately, you can do everything right, but that doesn’t mean the patient is going to bite. There are lots of reasons a patient may decide to pass, like the cost of the devices. (We’ve all heard that objection a million times.) Maybe it’s the stigma of being labeled “old.” No one wants to admit shortcomings, whether they are preventable or not. Or, let’s face it – maybe the two of you just didn’t “click.” It happens.
The procrastination factor
There is another reason that I just read about in the American Journal of Medicine from 20161, when COVID-19 wasn’t even a thing. Something that doesn’t always cross our minds or maybe we’ve forgotten about it. Now, the first thing that was reported as the reason for patients not to purchase aids was the cost. But, the second reason was inconvenience!
Inconvenience?! Yes, the idea of multiple office visits. People don’t have time for that. We live busy lifestyles. Some face mobility and transportation issues, too. Caregivers sometimes can’t leave the person they care for or take any more time off of work. And the idea of “one more health visit” is enough to put people off. It’s just not convenient, and it can easily be brushed aside when they can “get around to it” later. Now, let’s add in the additional concerns over the safety of that visit, and you have a recipe for the ultimate procrastination.
Time to be persistent with patients
So, the question is: What do we do when that patient decides to pass? Perhaps there are two camps to this dilemma. One camp might say: “Hey, they made their decision. There’s little I can do and I have others to attend to. They’re on their own.” If this is you, that’s okay. We’re all different people with different philosophies.
Then, there’s the other camp: the “never give uppers”. This is where I tend to land. Some may call me annoying; I call it determination. And, this is where I want to marinade for a little bit – take some time to discuss why we, as healthcare providers, need to be persistent with these patients. Maybe now wasn’t the time for them, but that doesn’t mean we give up. We plant seeds.
‘Old MacDonald had an’ … audiology practice?!
Think about farmers for a second. There is a lot of work that is involved before they see harvest time. They have to get the land ready, dig holes, plant seeds and wait. Now, they don’t wait by standing in the field all day staring at the ground, stomping their foot every day saying, “Not again, it’s been three days and still nothing!” No, that would be silly.
They plant seeds, and they wait. They let the water and sunshine do its magic below the surface. Until one day … a sprout. Then they continue to love on that sprout until the harvest and give thanks for it year round. Of course, this is a very simplified version of the hard work farmers put into their profession to benefit us all, but I like to think of our profession in much the same way. We are planting seeds and tending them with each encounter we have with our patients, whether they purchase on the first or the third encounter.
It’s important for us to respectfully and professionally plant seeds with the patients we care for. But, it can’t all happen on that first encounter. We have to spread it out for those who are a little more resistant. We give them our best at the first meeting, making sure they understand their hearing loss and the solutions we have to offer. If they decide not to, that’s okay. And for each encounter afterward we tend to the seed we planted on day one.
We water them – not drown them – with information of the benefits from amplification, the potential risks of untreated hearing loss and so on. We give them rays of sunshine by offering them solutions to their objections. If it’s money, then we have payment plans, state funding or leasing programs, to name a few. If it’s the inconvenience of the appointments, our sunshine could be eSolutions: programming and counseling at a distance.
You see where I’m going here. We continue to be like farmers, loving our patients one day at a time, not insisting on an instant harvest and then giving up when it doesn’t happen.
Time to be proactive
Let’s face it, these patients are being bombarded with health-related subjects that never end on a daily basis. They are faced with communication barriers more now than ever. Think about social distancing. By the mere fact that physical distance from the speaker to the hearer is a necessity, these patients are going to struggle even more. Let’s add a face mask to that just to complicate things a little further.
I have seen more newscasts and television commercials in the last few weeks where the main speaker wears a face mask. I just want to scream, “What about the hearing loss population?” Don’t they understand how important it is for lipreading to be present? Is it really necessary to pitch your product through the television wearing a facemask? These patients need us now more than ever before. So, don’t give up on them.
We need to be proactive and not reactive! The very definition of reactive is, “acting in response, rather than creating or controlling it”. We cannot idlily sit by and wait for the patients to contact us regarding their needs. We need to get the message out there that we can help … remotely, that we understand their struggles, and that we have solutions that may not have been available in the past.
Re-engage these patients with a phone call – a check-in asking them how they are doing, question them about how communication has been affected through this epidemic and how can you help. Maybe it’s a mailer or a post on your website, a Facebook feed or a Twitter communication. However you can reach them, do it …. tend to the seed.
I promise you, if you don’t, someone else will or has already. Just in the last couple of months (April-May 2020), Phonak has seen an increase in the use of Remote Support by almost 500%. Are you a part of that percentage? If not, you may want to look down the street at your competition, are they a part of that percentage?
Benefits of AudiogramDirect
Phonak has worked very hard to understand and provide solutions given the ever-changing environment circled around telehealth. We have a comprehensive portfolio at your fingertips with suggestions, tools, guides and documents to help you navigate these new waters. One of those tools is AudiogramDirect.
This is not a new tool from Phonak but has been available for many years. Now, more than ever, this tool can be a lifeline for your patients who can’t make it into the office at this time. Does it replace best practices of a diagnostic audiogram? Absolutely, not. But it does have many useful clinical applications.
For instance, what about the patient who reports a change in hearing, but again, they can’t come into the office? What about our patients with fluctuating hearing loss that need different hearing aid adjustments depending on their current loss? I think of the Meniere’s patients and the autoimmune patients. Or what about that tinnitus patient who has perceived a change in their tinnitus?
The take home message here is: AudiogramDirect could be beneficial to you as the provider because you will be offering solutions to issues they might otherwise have ignored, dealt with or complained about to friends and family, because remember from the study earlier – there is an “inconvenience” barrier to hearing aids. Why not provide the patient with positive ammunition to spread to their friends and family! I see a clear referral pathway developing from happy, well taken care of remote patients. Become a well-rounded, full-service clinic that offers your patients a blended approach to healthcare. It’s not an all-or-nothing game here. Services like Remote Support and AudiogramDirect can be seamlessly incorporated into your practice as an enhancement not a road block to great patient care.
Create protocols for in-office vs. remote sessions
As I mentioned, these remote support services, by no means, replace the need for in-office services. You as the healthcare provider need to create protocols and boundaries for your office. There needs to be clear pathways and communication of when a remote session is needed and when an in-office visit is a must.
Communicating in a proactive way with your staff and patients will highlight all the benefits you have to offer and which is appropriate given specific circumstances. Start by identifying target populations within your practice and decide how each of those populations will be handled. For instance, tested not sold vs. current wearers vs. patients who are ready to re-purchase will have very different journeys.
How can remote services benefit each of these groups and what does that look like? It’s important to reinforce the need for in-office visits and communicate a blended approach with each group. Highlight all the wonderful services you can and will provide to that individual in-office, such as a complete diagnostic testing, the use of real ear measures for the most accurate fit possible, and perhaps the best cleaning they have ever received on their hearing aids, full of new parts and shiny pieces.
In-office visits are a must for these types of services. But then, also, tell them of the wonderful things that can be done remotely: hearing aid adjustments, AudiogramDirect, counseling, etc. Remember … water and sunshine.
So what’s next? Where can you find more information about all that Phonak has to offer you regarding eAudiology? As I mentioned, we have an extensive portfolio to help you on this journey, to provide you with a blended approach (remote and in-office visits) and to BRIDGE the gap for you and your patients.
The first place I would look to is your dedicated Phonak team. We have a vast storehouse of information at our fingertips. And, secondly, check out the eSolutions webpage on Phonakpro.com. Here you will find anything from a basic overview to very specific information guiding you each step of the way.
It’s time to get dirty, plant seeds and step into a world of harvest.
- Mamo, S.K., Reed, N.S., Nieman, C.L., Oh, E.S., Lin, F.R. (2016). Personal Sound Amplifiers for Adults with Hearing Loss. American Journal of Medicine; 129(3):245‐250. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2015.09.014