It was a beautiful autumn morning in Morgantown, WV (if you’ve ever been to Morgantown in the fall, you understand why I mention this), and I was enjoying the foliage on my way to work at a local university. The previous evening, I had a lengthy and impassioned discussion about competition—the good, the bad, and the ugly—within the hearing health care industry with my third-year AuD students and a representative from a hearing aid company. The evening was filled with a tremendous and respectful exchange of ideas. Hearing the students so engaged in these important business discussions gave me hope for the profession.
As the evening progressed though, it became apparent that the majority of students held a negative view of competition in our industry. I was surprised at some of the comments and thoughts they offered—the contents of which I am certain originated and were relayed to them by current professionals in the field (e.g., clinical supervisors, other faculty, professionals at conferences, etc.). If I had to describe their mindset in one word, that word would be protectionism. It was if they believed that limiting market competition was the only way (or perhaps the best means) to success. I understood this to be an understandable view to have as a student with a limited set of experiences in the field.
Feeling a bit disheartened as I drove in to work the next day, I took note of something that I had never noticed before—something I passed daily that was emblematic of the prior evening’s discussion. On that street and close to campus, I found two pizza shops, one right next to the other (Fig. 1). They are next-door neighbors, not just on the same street. One is a popular local place and the other a national pizza chain (one of the first to increase competition within their industry and offer $5 pizzas on demand). Imagine it—two companies selling the same product in a common location.
How can this be? Is it even possible for companies offering a similar product to coexist in close proximity—both offering a quality product or service, and both simultaneously prospering? The observation from that morning has been helpful for articulating my view of the positive impact of competition and the reality that we can all “win” despite the competition we face.
Recently, I was reminded of the pizza shop scenario while listening to a video found on a Facebook page (found at https://fb.watch/7IBosKn1Ig/) titled Audiology Sales Coaching. The message of this particular video spoke to me about the need to share the importance of embracing competition and hoping for the success of others—yes, even our competitors.
EMBRACING COMPETITION IN HEARING HEALTH CARE
Competition in the hearing health care industry can take many forms. From competition for patients amongst professionals within audiology and the hearing aid dispensing profession to new market penetrants such as the sale of hearing aids over the internet and over-the-counter products, the profession is facing new and significant challenges. Additionally, as discussed in the August editorial, the field is also facing a less tangible competition—a competition against the status quo (or patients doing nothing about their hearing loss). So, how as a field do we overcome these obstacles and effectively deal with increased competition? While pages and pages of opinions could be written on this topic, one answer is not working to limit competition.
Practices should be open to (and embrace) all competition and should work to provide products and services in a competitive way based on their individual market. If your competitor can offer products at a lower cost, it becomes your responsibility to analyze your competitive business model and adjust accordingly. Some in the field suggest the way to effectively deal with this type of competition is to focus on the service aspects of your practice, specifically on the providers’ high-level and quality of educational training. While in theory this may prove beneficial, I am unsure of its efficacy in practice. In either instance, it is important to embrace (and not work to limit) competition in your market by consistently reviewing your business model, financial status, and service delivery strategies.
STUDENT BUSINESS TRAINING AND COMPETITION
Students are the future of the profession, and from my experience with students from across the country, the profession is in good hands. However, it is important for all of us as faculty, clinical supervisors, observation sites, etc., to teach them how to foster a culture of respect toward others and their opinions—even when you personally have disagreements.
I would encourage anyone reading this editorial to spend some time reviewing posts found on various discipline-specific social media outlets and draw your own conclusion as to whether members of our profession are fostering a positive culture of respect and diversity of opinion. While this may not be a popular statement, I view this as a very serious problem for our field, particularly if less-than-positive views (many would view them as negative) are being shared with students during their formative years of academic training.
It is important to mentor students using the mindset founded in the title of this editorial as a guide: You can’t compete with me; I want you to win too! We exert heavy influence on these soon-to-be professionals and can shape their future views in both positive and negative ways; therefore, be careful with your approach when discussing potentially sensitive professional issues—understanding that these discussions can have long-lasting effects.
PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND COMPETITION
Similar to the previous discussion, my hope for the profession is for every professional organization to prosper and effectively advocate for the work we do. I am not naive to think that disagreements and contentious discussions have not occurred and will not occur in the future. To the contrary, discussions of this nature are important and fruitful if conducted in a cordial and civil manner. This is also the way I suggest that we, as professionals, discuss topics related to professional organizations with students. It does no good to tear one professional organization down to bolster another. Again, to the contrary, this harms the profession.
As I sat at my computer thinking of how to summarize my thoughts and finish this editorial, I encountered multiple unhelpful social media posts that reinforced the need to start this discussion. As a profession, now more than ever, we should examine the status of current discourse (in person and online) and work to foster a positive and respectful exchange of ideas.
WE ARE ONE
In the end, we are one in our goal of providing high-quality hearing health care for the masses. It is important that we all wish for the success of others, lift each other up, and work together to strengthen the future of hearing healthcare, even in times of disagreement. It is also critically important to listen to and respect the opinions of others, even if you wholeheartedly disagree.
Although I can’t claim credit for this quote or identify the person who said it, I will reiterate it with the hope that others adopt a similar view: You can’t compete with me; I want you to win too!
Acknowledgements: The opinions expressed here are that of the author and do not reflect the opinions of the author’s employer.