No Evidence for Hearing Screenings

If you haven’t heard about it yet…here it is from the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The Update of the 1996 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation statement on hearing screenings for older adults,

“The USPSTF concluded that current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for hearing loss in asymptomatic adults aged 50 years or older.”

This recommendation applies to asymptomatic adults aged 50 years or older. It does not apply to persons seeking evaluation for perceived hearing problems or for cognitive or affective symptoms that may be related to hearing loss. These persons should be assessed for objective hearing impairment and treated when indicated.

You can view this one of two ways…glass half empty or glass half full.

Glass Half Empty

Primary care physicians, already difficult to convince to do just about anything can now point to this recommendation as an additional reason why they aren’t sending you any patients for something as easy and painless as a hearing screening.

Glass Hall Full

Lets get real. You probably have several great primary care doctors who already refer patients to you. My guess is (and this is the important part), they didn’t start sending you patients because the previous Preventative Task Force recommended that they send patients over age 50 for a hearing screening.

In all likelihood you cultivated the relationship through hard work. You made sure to visit their office every so often, that their patients were seen promptly and returned accurate and well written reports quickly.

The sky is not falling because some task force made an ill-advised choice. Take solace in the Statement by Dr. James Pacala, president of the American Geriatrics Society,

“The only detriments associated with hearing tests are “some anxiety” and the unreimbursed medical costs patients incur.” Dr. Pacala said, “He planned to continue offering them (hearing screenings) to patients. “I think we’ve oversold cancer screening, but in this case the harms are minimal to nonexistent, while the potential benefit is clear: When people are outfitted with hearing aids, they hear better.”

Find the Dr. Pacala’s in your medical community and continue to develop your referral sources just like you were doing last week and the week before. I hate be the one to tell you this, but if the USPSTF had gone the other way, your phone still wouldn’t have been ringing off the hook with a bevy of 50+ year old patients referred by their doctors.

Creating an Effective Patient Recall Program

Patient recall programs are activities that bring the patient back into your office on a routine basis.  The program should be directed at both active and inactive patients.

The Method

The only effective method for activating inactive patients is to have a well-trained person from the practice initiate telephone calls.  Even for someone who is effective at this task, it’s probably their least favorite thing to do.  Knowing that up front means it is important to set goals and monitor their activity, both in terms of time allocated and the successes they are having.  Attaching incentives for the person charged with this activity can only improve performance.

It is important to differentiate between patients who should be followed for medical reasons and patients who are being recalled to maintain their active status within the practice.  A determination needs to be made at the end of the initial office visit which category the patient will fall into.  For existing patients where the determination was not made at the initial visit the staff needs to be given the criteria and the chart should be reviewed prior to making the call. Again, you will be calling three types of patients.  They are: 

  • Patients who purchased hearing aids from the practice but are no longer active.
  • Patients who were tested and did not purchase.
  • Patients were seen for medical reasons and were not candidates for hearing aids, but who should be monitored.

Each month your files should be reviewed and patients who need to be recalled should be identified.  You can contact them with a reminder card and then follow-up with a telephone call taking the same approach above.  Your staff should have a much higher success rate with the active versus inactive patients.  There may still need to be some prompting on their part but the majority should make appointments.

Why is a patient recall program a good idea?

  • By updating your files, you eliminate mailing correspondence to patients who are inactive.
  • You will increase the opportunity to provide existing patients additional products and services.
  • The value of your practice will increase based on the active number of files you have, should you decide to sell it.
  • You have an opportunity to reclaim patients that may have switched to a competitor.
  • You can eliminate an unhappy patient making negative comments about your practice.

Not sure how to get the ball rolling?  Call us.  We can help you to identify and to train the right person in your practice.  A effective patient recall program is an ideal way to lessen your reliance on advertising to meet your monthly goals.

 

 

I Have No Idea How I Got My Newest Patient

When I ask the question, “Tell me the top 5 ways you get a patient through your door? If just once, someone would be honest with me and say out loud, “I have no idea where my patients are coming from” I’d probably keel over on the spot.”  Invariably the answers I get range from, “Well I’m pretty sure they’re coming from…or “I’ll have to try to figure that out.”…or the always popular Well it varies.”

If you don’t know the answer to that question, you’re wasting your advertising and marketing dollars.  You need to understand not only what draws patients to your business but what doesn’t.

Ask your patients questions.  I don’t mean strap them to a chair under a bright light and threaten bodily harm if they don’t come up with the right answer.  I mean be genuine.  “Mr. Patient, we really value your business and we would love to have more patients just like you.”  “Can you please tell me how you first heard about us?”

If they answer, the yellow pages, or online, or any other non-specific response, it’s okay to dig a little deeper.  “Hmm, interesting, were you looking for us or did you just stumble on our page…or our website?”

You will never know for sure if the answer they give is really the “correct answer”.  But I guarantee what you will uncover is a potential market you didn’t know existed.  Maybe a neighbor really is raving about you and sending links from your website to her friends.  Yes, they found you online, but it’s because Linda sent them a link.

Ask the right questions, track the responses and hopefully you’ll be spending your advertising dollars on financially rewarding opportunities you didn’t even know existed.

 

Does Your Office Staff Know That It’s All About a Sale?

For reasons that appear to rooted in our sub-conscious, the phrase “to sell” evokes a negative emotion.  In an attempt to make it more palatable in our profession we refer to the process as “a consultation”, “an evaluation” or any number of other equally and occasionally interesting terms.

If your objective is charity work, then give hearing aids away for free. However if you aren’t independently wealthy as a hearing healthcare professional you typically have to sell hearing aids to make money.  You can have the best marketing program on the planet, but if 8 out of 10 people who come through your door leave with out buying anything, you won’t be in business very long.

To sell, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means to persuade another to recognize the worth or desirability of something.   Too often the belief is that the product, whatever the product is and the attributes of the product should be all it takes to buy the product.

Wrong, customers buy with their emotions long before the rational part of their brain kicks in.  While that’s easy to understand when it comes to some products (clothing, cars, weight loss programs and creams that remove wrinkles), it’s true of everything that you buy.

The sales process for any product can be very complicated. Many factors are involved. But more often than not its because everyone from the person who answers the phone to the person who checks you out understands that they are selling the patient.  They are persuading the patient to choose your office for their hearing healthcare needs.

  • Yes it was a great idea to call us.
  • Yes, we’re so happy you came for your appointment today.
  • Yes, we’re on time and happy to see you.
  • We’re sad you’re leaving today but you’ll be back to see us again in a few weeks.

Every so often really listen to and watch how your staff interacts with your patients.  Do they really grasp that the patient is the customer and the customer is the reason they have a job?  Or do they act annoyed because the customer interrupted whatever task they were in the middle of?

It may sound corny, but from a patient’s perspective this is going to go one of two ways.  I’m sold or I walk.  It makes more sense to make sure that every step along the way gives the patient one more reason to say yes instead of one more reason to say no.


Marketing Doctors for Referrals, It Isn’t as Difficult as You Think

Forget everything you’ve read about the best way to market doctors.

Educating doctors about audiology, hearing aids and hearing loss is a nice idea that has little basis in the reality of both you and the doctor’s busy day.

You are marketing the doctor for referrals and that’s ok.  He knows it and you know it.  Marketing should solve a problem.  If your plan is to educate the physician about hearing loss then you are assuming that the doctor lacks the information you’re providing.

We don’t suggest this approach for two reasons.

The assumption if wrong makes you look like an idiot.

The assumption if correct makes the doctor feel like an idiot.

I don’t know about you, but neither outcome works for me.

The problem that you are trying to solve is that you aren’t getting enough patients from the doctor.  (By the way, if you are getting enough patients, then drop off lunch, say thank you and leave them to enjoy their lunch).

 

 

How do you get more referrals?

By figuring out what the doctors problems are and providing a solution. (The staff’s problems count too.)

          1. The referral process should be as simple as possible.  Everything the doctor’s office and the patient needs should be located in one envelope.
          2. It’s ok to ask questions.  But they need to be the right questions
            1. Do you refer out for audiology? It’s a good idea to see what the starting point might be.
            2. What do you expect from your referral sources?  They may not have an answer so be ready with an example.  Do you prefer to have reports emailed, faxed or mailed to your office?
            3. Is there something in particular that we should never do?  If they had a hard time coming up with a response to the previous question, trust me they won’t be shy answering this one.
          3. I know I annoyed some of you by stating that educating the physician about hearing loss and hearing aids had no basis in reality.  What , I should have said was education needs to come much later in the relationship.  Once you establish that you are interested in solving problems for the doctor.  He may be open to more.  There is a time and a place for everything.  And the first few visits to any new referal source should be all about them, not you about you.

Marketing referral sources is just like developing any other relationship.  Remember these 3 things and your referral base should flourish!

      1. Someone has to make the first move and typically that’s whoever wants the relationship in the first place. (Doctors aren’t going to just start knocking on your door, you actually have to go to their office.)
      2. Both sides have to get something out of the relationship on an ongoing basis otherwise why should either side bother?  (You get referrals, they get fed.)
      3. You need to make sure the relationship is a priority.  Don’t take it for granted and stop visiting or sending reports or making sure that everything between your offices is problem free or the inevitable will occur and the relationship will end.

Newspaper Advertising Did Not Die

The key to increasing profits in an audiology practice is in not having an occasional great month but having consistently good months. An effective advertising program is an important tool for generating a constant flow of new patients.

Today audiology practices can choose from

many mediums when it comes to advertising. They also have many messages to present to the public. How do you choose your message and your medium? 

According to a recent Pew Research study 72% of adults over age 40 follow their local news.  And of those 32% say it would have a major impact on them if their local newspaper no longer existed.  In other words, your demographic is still buying and reading the paper. If purchased properly it can be one of the most inexpensive mediums for getting your message out to the public.

Advantages to Newspaper Advertising
  • Inexpensive when compared to other mediums in terms of readership
  • Short lead times for running ads
  • Can be adjusted based on patient flow in any given month
  • You can recycle effective advertisements
  • You do not have to invest your monthly advertising budget in one promotion
  • You can use the newspaper to deliver inserts inexpensively to specific zip codes.
Disadvantages to Newspaper Advertising
  • It can be more complicated to prepare a newspaper advertising campaign than other advertising mediums
  • It can be more complicated to track individual ad results if you are constantly changing the advertising message
  • It can be expensive if not purchasedproperly
Keys to Creating Effective Newspaper Ads

The most important step in developing an effective newspaper advertising campaign is to make sure your message is seen. If you have to choose between four small ads or one large ad we would always recommend choosing the large ad. This also comes into play when selecting which section of the Newspaper your ad will run in. If you had to choose between a small ad in a section that appeals to our demographic or a large ad in section that might not be as suitable, again, as a general rule we would recommend the large ad.

If your budget allows, run what is referred to as a “page buster ad”. A page buster ad is one that is large enough so that no other ad can dominate the page. As a rule, page buster ads are slightly larger then ¼ page. In theory the newspaper could run a ¼ page ad and a ½ page on the same page but they very seldom do that for fear of upsetting the advertisers.

Be sure to have a strong call to action. We are not fans of “top of the mind awareness” type advertising. Our patients are for the most part, reluctant participants in the rehabilitation of their hearing. It is unlikely that the average patient wakes up one morning and says, “I think I will go and get my hearing checked today”.

If that were the case then top of the mind awareness, which is essentially running small ads that only list your practice name and services over and over might be effective. What probably happens in the majority of case

s is that a significant other sees an ad with an offer of some kind and says, “You are making an appointment today”.

Effective marketing and advertising promotions are part science, part art.  You have any number of methods at your disposable.  It’s just as important to embrace the newer methods (online marketing) as it is to recognize that the older methods can still provide a hefty return on investment.

Reasons to Track Your Return on Investment

Here’s how the conversation went, “Have you tried any direct mail or newspaper inserts lately?”  The answer, “We tried both, they didn’t work.”  Next question, “What was the (return on investment) ROI for each?”  The answer?  “I don’t know.”

If you don’t know where your patients are coming from and how much it cost you to get them in your door, then you have no idea if your advertising and marketing campaigns are worth repeating.

Advertising and Marketing tend to be costly items in everyone’s P&L. Ideally you want to spend as little as possible to get the number of patients needed on a monthly basis.  Too often you run ads, inserts, email campaigns, open houses, etc. with little thought as to why a prior ad piece or event was or wasn’t successful.

Experience may teach you how to better manage the event, but tracking the results in as many ways as possible will allow you to make better decisions about where to put your marketing dollars.

A minor change to an ad piece can significantly impact the ROI of any ad.   For example, the same ad run on a Monday may have a better or worse response from the public than an identical ad run on a Friday. Another example might be an ad that you ran in color.  You may end up with a lower cost per lead even though the ad was more expensive.

Investing time in establishing a tracking system will pay dividends in the long run in other ways.  Each month when you start putting your advertising and marketing plan together you’ll have historical information that will make planning your marketing and advertising strategies quicker without sacrificing quality.

Patterns will develop if you carefully cultivate and store information from the patients who respond to your advertising and marketing, particularly those who purchase.  After all, they’re the ones you want to make sure keep coming in your door.