How to manage the finances of hearing, survive in a sea of competition, and ease tension in your office are all part of the sessions planned for AudiologyNow! 2012, the American Academy of Audiology's annual conference to be held March 28-31 in Boston. The four-day conference will offer everything from educational workshops and labs to mix-and-mingles and benefit events.
Few hearing health care professionals think about running a business while they are training for their careers. Suddenly, they are ready to start practicing, but find themselves in a jam. How do you run a successful business?
Andrew Schwartz, a certified public accountant for Schwartz and Schwartz in Woburn, MA, has an answer. His half-day learning lab, “Making Sense of the Numbers (and Saving Some Taxes) — for Audiologists,” scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., will teach attendees how to handle practice finances, marketing, and management.
“I'm going to take some of the information that we gather from our clients and use it to help those during the seminar,” he said in anticipation of his presentation. “It is important to understand the numbers to look for when managing a practice and how to use these numbers to increase collection, watch overhead, and hopefully become more profitable.”
Mr. Schwartz, who has had an accounting practice geared toward health care professionals for more than 20 years, said he split the lecture into four parts. He will first take a deep look at understanding, tracking, and increasing revenue. “The second part of the lecture will be on overhead expenses,” he said. “Taking the overhead expenses, I am going to teach the group how to calculate break-even.”
The next part of the talk will appeal not only to audiologists with private practices, but also others working in hearing health care. “A lot of audiologists work as associates so they have different issues,” Mr. Schwartz said. “We are going to talk about docking professional expenses. I will talk about the rules of what's deductible and what's not, where you can push things and where you can't.”
Mr. Schwartz said marketing a practice is a vital part of running a practice, and audiologists must learn how to set themselves apart from their competition. “A lot of what everyone does is the same. People have to dig deep, and figure out how they are different,” he said. “How can an audiologist differentiate [himself]? Is it through experience, style, technology, or something else? There is a whole bunch of ways to be a little different.
“It's more than just hanging a shingle. It's giving some thought to who you are and the story you are going to tell,” Mr. Schwartz said.
The lecture will also touch on related topics such as building and managing a referral network and calculating compensation. Annette Burton, AuD, of the Easter Seals Center for Better Hearing, will also contribute to the lecture.
Once a practice is up and running, many worry about surviving in a sea of competition. Running a business has never been easy, but does growing competition make it even more difficult to develop and sustain a profitable practice?
Gyl Kasewurm, AuD, of Professional Hearing Services, Ltd, in St. Joseph, MI, said that's just not the case. In a full-day learning lab on March 28, her session, “Help! I'm Surrounded: New and Unique Ways to Survive and Even Thrive in the Face of Increasing Competition,” Dr. Kasewurm and surprise guests from practices across the country will share ways to prosper in the current marketplace.
“In this profession, the competition has gotten stiffer, especially when you now have everyone from the Internet to Costco selling hearing aids,” she said. “But we have several practitioners from across the country who have doubled their business over the past three years, and I've done some analysis on the competition, and we are going to give specific points on how to maintain a presence in the target market with prospective and current patients.”
Dr. Kasewurm will also discuss how to retain patients, whether through different areas of focus, advanced technology, or excellent service.
“It used to be that good customer service was good enough to maintain patients, and now it has to be extraordinary,” she said. “We are going to talk about specific ways to provide customer service to patients.”
How to cater to patients who appreciate your services is also on the agenda. “I recently had to fire a patient,” Dr. Kasewurm said. “You don't have to be everything to everybody. You want to be something to the key people you are catering to, those who continue to be loyal and won't just jump ship after seeing a price tag.”
Obtaining loyal customers will be the focus of Robert Flynn's lecture, “Convincing Your Patients to Say ‘Yes,’” scheduled for March 28 from 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
After a patient is tested and learns that he will require hearing aids, the visit may turn tense. There is no way to avoid the inevitable: the audiologist has to sell the patient a treatment plan. Mr. Flynn, a member of the psychology and communications department at Legacy Frontiers, will teach attendees how to assuage this stressful experience. This program, created by Jake Gibbs at Legacy, has been a popular session at AudiologyNow! for almost a decade.
“We realize that in these situations there is an unconscious tension that rises between two people, and we want to provide usable ways to keep tension low,” Mr. Gibbs said. The lecture will provide ways for audiologists to engage patients and families to build trust, with Mr. Flynn providing ways to achieve this goal.
“When relationship tension is high, it is important to get down to business,” Mr. Gibbs said. “The patient wants to solve a problem, and the practitioner wants to uncover a problem. We want to keep interpersonal tension low, and we provide practitioners with ways to identify the buying style of the patient, whether the patient needs a lot of information, or if [he needs] affirmation that everything is going to be OK.”
That may be as simple as putting the patient into the driver's seat of his own care. “We give practitioners a process called the discovery interview process,” Mr. Gibbs said. “This is about always putting the patient on a psychologically safe track that moves [him] through the diagnostic and buying cycle without high stress. The patients don't even know they are driving their own needs and diagnosis.”
Developing mini contracts to put patients at ease is also an effective strategy, he said. “Typically, you get the audiogram, and you try to tell the patient the issues, problems, and following courses of action,” Mr. Gibbs said. “We emphasize mini-contracts where you ask patients questions and ask permission before moving forward. By asking permission to move forward, you get these mini-contracts and the more permission you get, the [more likely that] better patient care ends up happening. The patients buy into their own diagnosis and prognosis.”
The focus of every practitioner must be on the patient, he said. Each patient is different, and will not simply accept everything that goes along with treatment. That creates friction rises, and practitioners need to understand how to handle it.
“Life is tense,” Mr. Gibbs said. “The focus has to be on the patient and how [he is] behaving, not on a stubborn, directive agenda. This teaches us to be patient-centered and to always be able to tell when there is tension. When tension is low, people want to move forward with care. Some appointments with a patient may take longer than others. You may have five patients that take 10 minutes, but six to seven that take an hour and half because this is their style. This program will help practitioners understand how to work with this.”
Exhibitors at AudiologyNow!
A special advertising section highlights the products and services of select manufacturers exhibiting at AudiologyNow! 2012. See p. 63.