“New decade…new decisions…” was the theme for this year's Hearing Industries Association (HIA) Annual Meeting held in Delray Beach, FL March 3-4. Todd Murray, president of ReSound North America, stood before attendees as Chairman of HIA two years earlier than expected, following the departure of former chairman Sam Westover from the industry in 2010.
One of the key successes over the past year, Murray noted, was bypassing the medical device tax intended to support health reform legislation with the exclusion of Class 1 medical devices, which includes hearing aids. The exclusion provides an annual savings of $43 million.
“Speaking to the unity and work of everyone involved,” Murray said, “I say congratulations and thank you.”
VA SETS PRIORITIES
Lucille Beck, PhD, who was recently appointed Chief Consultant of Rehabilitation Services for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), shared data from the VA's Hearing Aid Outcomes Inventory and its National Hearing Loss Repository, which encompasses 1.5 million audiograms.
The number of hearing aids supplied in 2010 increased by 18% from 2009 to 561,212, and the average hearing aid cost was about $384.
Although the data in the outcomes inventory does not capture pre- and post-hearing aid use, the tool is very useful and practical, Beck noted. So far the inventory, which was started in 2009, houses data on 12,000 patients at more than 100 facilities and the data is stratified by degree of hearing loss. The information can also be stratified by type of hearing aid.
“What we're seeing so far in the VA really exceeds the norm, which says that we're doing our job in terms of demonstrating the efficacy of what we do,” Beck said.
Audiology Telehealth Pilot
The VA has been charged to try to develop a world-class telehealth system of care and has put together a pilot project that will be carried out at 10 sites this year.
“The purpose of it is to do remote hearing aid fittings where we will use audiologists at the parent site and technicians at the rural site in order to move resources out into the community,” Beck said.
The VA also has a program, Telehealth Innovation, or VAi2, that is soliciting proposals from members of the industry on innovative ways to incorporate telehealth. Some areas of interest include remote assessment of hearing, otoacoustic emissions, troubleshooting programming of hearing aids, homebased after care for hearing aid users, tinnitus management, and balance. Applications can be found online at www.va.gov/vai2.
REPORT FROM HEARING PARTNERS
Several of HIA's allied organizations gave an overview of their projects for the coming year, calling for collaboration among professionals and members of the industry.
Alexander Graham Bell Association
Alexander Graham, executive director of the Alexander Graham Bell Association, announced the development of the Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center—a one stop shop for families dealing with hearing loss and hearing healthcare professionals.
“We want to transform from focusing on our heritage and our famous founder, because the reality is people identify with the outcome of listening and spoken language. They don't think about the association or Dr. Bell when they think about their child's hearing loss,” said Graham.
The knowledge center will have video vignettes of what a classroom will look like for a child with hearing loss, based on feedback from parents who say that they want to see immediate examples of what their child's future could look like, Graham said. The resource will also be interactive, allowing users to connect via blogs and social networks like facebook and twitter.
The Patient Advocacy Training (PAT) page is the first knowledge center product to be released. PAT was created by a group of concerned parents in the early 2000s to help negotiate special education laws and regulations, and involved live meetings across the association's 30 chapters to discuss such legislation. The association was able to turn the program into a 90-minute, web-based training course for parents that also houses a glossary of terms, resource links, and discussion groups to connect users locally. Professionals who take the course can also earn CEUs.
“We want to give people things to do where they can take action and take charge of their situation,” Graham said.
“As an association, we don't really have to create a lot of content. But we have to be curators and information conduits, and that's what we want to do with the knowledge center.”
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), which now has over 14,000 affiliated audiologists, is heavily immersed in a number of areas involving coding and reimbursement, noted the association's vice president for professional practices in audiology, Jaynee Handelsman, PhD.
One initiative is the Physicians Quality Reporting System (PQRS), developed through the Audiology Quality Consortium. PQRS enables audiologists who are enrolled as Medicare providers to receive a 2% incentive for their voluntary reporting on three referral measures.
ASHA also represents a seat at the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) panel table, reaching out to audiology organizations to solicit input on CPT coding, and is active in pursuing the comprehensive Medicare audiology services benefit, of which Handelsman said, “Our goal is really to ensure that audiologists can get paid for the things that they do throughout the scope of practice.”
With nearly 70% of its members owning their own practice, the Academy of Doctor's of Audiology (ADA) is centered on its members owning the profession through its advocacy and education efforts.
ADA is currently looking at the development of a certificate program that is business focused and anticipates having something available by the annual convention this fall. Stephanie Czuhajewski, executive director of ADA, said that the academy also hopes to increase its opportunities for webinars and training and is looking for abstract submissions related to that, for which individuals can receive continuing education credit.
“We are developing programs and services that will take things from just a once a year experience, to be more of an ongoing experience,” Czuhajewski said.
ADA's annual convention, Rock the Boat, will be held November 3-5 at the Hyatt Coconut Point Resort in Bonita Springs, FL.
Lise Hamlin, director of Public Policy for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), spoke to HLAA's advocacy role for adults who are easing into their hearing loss. This past year, the association was very instrumental in pushing for tax credit legislation and captioning in movie theaters.
“The issue with captioning for movies touched a nerve,” Hamlin said. “The Department of Justice put out four different notices and most of the notices got about 150 comments. On movie captioning, they received over 1,400, and well over 700 came from people who heard from us and were listening.”
Over the past year, the association also put out a position paper on employment issues, citing that not only should everyone be able to test for certain jobs, but that hearing impaired individuals should also be allowed to test with their hearing aids on.
HLAA now hosts 23 walks across the country that raise money and awareness of hearing loss, and this year the association will hold its annual convention June 16-19 in Washington, DC, linking it with the International Loop Convention.
“We are looking to move hearing loss up as a national health issue and do away with the stigma,” Hamlin said. “I think that it will naturally go away as more and more people begin to use hearing aids.”
With the successful launch of its Academy Research Conference (ARC) at AudiologyNOW! 2009, Patricia Kricos, PhD, president of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), announced that the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders agreed to fund this year's program as well as the next two ARCs. ARC11 will focus on tinnitus and the topic for ARC12 will be noise-induced hearing loss, followed by a program on binaural hearing for ARC13.
AAA also launched its Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) two years ago, and so far SAA has developed 54 chapters. The organization recently proposed the creation of a student conference and surveyed its members to assess interest in the idea.
eAudiology is another big area for the Academy, which will broadcast two sessions from AudiologyNOW! April 6-9 in Chicago live over the web. The sessions are the annual Marion Downs Lecture and Group Aural Rehabilitation: It's Worth it!
“What's old is new again,” Kathleen Mennillo, executive director of the International Hearing Society (IHS), said speaking of the society's 60-plus year history.
“We are one of the founders of this industry and we are making changes to reinvent ourselves,” Mennillo added.
Setting the gold standard for dispensing education, IHS' international licensing exam (ILE) is currently being used in 38 states and four Canadian provinces.
The society recently invested more than $100,000 to transform the test from a pen and paper exam into a computer-based assessment. IHS is also investigating licensing needs in India, Asia, and Europe.
“The ILE is constantly updated and evaluated to ensure that it accurately measures the latest skill sets and knowledge of professionals entering the field today, and that number continues to rise at impressive rates,” said IHS president Alan Lowell.
The International Hearing Society will hold its annual convention in Boston September 15-17.
BHI YEAR IN REVIEW
During the Better Hearing Institute's (BHI) annual report, president Gordon Walker announced the launch of a self-hearing test on the BHI website.
Following the model set by the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association, Walker noted that the test is not intended to diagnose individuals, but rather ask, are you at risk?
“We want to simplify the model of the consumer adoption process,” said Walker who noted that BHI's website, betterhearing.org, received 1 million visitors in 2010.
The 15-question self-hearing test can be found at www.hearingcheck.org.
Hamlin stood before attendees again, along with Peter Tannenwald, Esq, HIA Special Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Counsel, to discuss challenges with hearing aid compatibility (HAC) in the smartphone era.
As cell phones become more smart phones, the hearing capability has become more unsatisfactory, Tannewald noted.
HIA has placed pressure on the FCC to not exempt new technologies from being required to be hearing aid compatible, stressing that hearing aid users should have access to all smartphone functions. Furthermore, HIA is against the two-year grace period smartphone manufactures have requested to bring their products up to standard, pushing for hearing aid compatibility to be required in the phone's initial design phase. The association would also like for consumers to be able to return devices without penalty if they find that they are not compatible with their hearing aids.
HLAA recently conducted a survey at the beginning of February assessing hearing aid wearers' experiences with smartphones and presented the results to the FCC. Among the 728 respondents, HLAA found that many device wearers have experienced interference with smarphones, they did not know how to determine whether their smartphone would be compatible with their hearing aid, and they did not know where to find compatible phones.
The challenge, Tannenwald said, is how to help the user figure out whether the phone isn't working properly with their hearing device. “Is it going to be the individuals working at the cell phone store that tell them,” he asked, “probably not. Is it going to be the audiologist? Maybe. Is it going to be consumer education? Definitely.”
NEW BOARD AND HEARING ON THE HILL
Concluding the meeting was the election of HIA's newest Board Members. Elected to two-year terms ending in 2013, were Brian Kinnerk of Siemens Hearing Instruments, Peer lauritsen from Oticon, Inc., and Robert Tong, of ON semiconductor.
On May 10-11, HIA will hold its 2011 Hearing on the Hill event. Congressional Meetings will be held all day on Wednesday, the 11th, as HIA members meet with Congress to discuss support of the Hearing Aid Tax Credit. Immediately following, HIA will hold a reception in honor of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus and provide hearing screenings for senators, representatives, and congressional staff.
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