Educating and empowering patients helps practitioners close sales and develop long-term relationships.

Getting patients who need hearing aids to agree to try them is the goal of every hearing professional. The satisfaction that comes with knowing you have enabled people to reclaim their lives with better hearing is immense, but, unfortunately, this feeling can be short-lived if your patients change their minds about amplification due to their unrealistic expectations. Buyer’s remorse due to these incorrect expectations, cost, or other factors also can turn a sale into a return. Or sometimes the sale never occurs, when patients who seem excited about trying hearing aids walk out with nothing if they conclude the cost of amplification is not worth the benefits. These actions occur when patients have not been educated properly about hearing aids.

Such scenarios are problematic not only because they leave patients with hearing that is no better off than when they first walked through the practice doors, but also because professional staff have likely expended a fair amount of effort toward something that, in the end, will not bring revenue into the practice. The goal with patients, then, should not just be to get them to try hearing aids, but rather, to ensure that they make a commitment to their amplification long past the trial period.

Debunking the Myths
According to a paper by Kristina Lee and Peter Lotz, PhD,1 “one of the biggest misconceptions [about hearing aids] for first-time users is that [amplification] is going to correct hearing loss completely, like prescriptive lenses [correct poor eyesight],” said Amyn Amlani, PhD, assistant professor of audiology at the University of North Texas in Denton. Other common misconceptions focus on loudness of sounds and the period of time it takes to get acclimated to hearing aids. Of course, the stigma of wearing hearing aids also still looms large.

Patients who come to your practice should be fully aware of what hearing aids can and cannot do and, through your education, should be completely committed to doing everything necessary to adjust to hearing with technological assistance. Hearing professionals must give patients with hearing loss the necessary information and support, through conversation and testing, to decide that hearing aids are something that contribute significantly to their quality of life.

Practitioners can employ many strategies to persuade patients to stay committed to their hearing aids. These include encouraging family support, uncovering patients’ needs, enabling patients to experience amplification, confirming they are satisfied with the sound, having a low monthly payment plan to facilitate purchases, describing the rehabilitation process explicitly, and pledging your continued support after the patient receives the hearing aids.

Significant Others Are Key
First, when scheduling a patient to visit you, encourage them to bring along a significant other. Why? Someone near and dear to the patient who sits in on the appointment often serves to corroborate what the professional is finding. Conversely, when significant others are not present, according to Roy Bain, author of The Book on Dispensing Hearing Aids, 83% of appointments made without a third party lead to patients who are tested without purchasing hearing aids.

The relative has perceived the person’s hearing loss and probably has even complained to  them about it, to no avail. Before coming in for an appointment, the patient may have felt that “it’s not me having the problem; it’s the fact that the person speaking isn’t loud or clear enough,” noted Amlani. In many cases, patients who learn via the concrete evidence of testing that they have hearing loss—and also are aware that their relatives perceive problems—will find it more difficult to continue denying a hearing problem. The significant other validates what the person with hearing impairment is feeling, even though the person may be embarrassed to admit it, Amlani said.

After the patient comes to understand the extent of their loss, discuss hearing needs. Ask if they work; socialize at parties, restaurants, or other noisy places; use the phone frequently; or engage in any other kind of activity for which communication and optimal hearing ability are important. Use this information to determine which hearing aid is best for the patient. Once you have made your decisions, explain why you chose these hearing aids so the patient understands that you have picked the technologies that will help in listening environments that are important to them. Not only will this demonstrate to the patient that you care about meeting their concerns, but it also will help you confirm that you are addressing all of the patient’s hearing needs in an attempt to eliminate disappointment.

Reintroduction to Sounds
Next, when the hearing aids have been chosen, demo them and confirm that the patient is satisfied with the sound. Again, taking these steps ensures that the patient is clear on what they will be getting with amplification and lets you know that they are satisfied with the level of hearing achievable with the amplification. An added bonus is that patients who experience the hearing aids are more likely to stick with them.

Once the patient has admitted to a hearing loss at the insistence of the significant other and due to the results of the professional’s tests, tried the hearing aids, and agreed to make a commitment to better hearing, it will be time to discuss payment.

We know that many patients are reluctant to spend much on hearing aids, and recent research from Amlani has confirmed this. His research focuses on price elasticity, or fluctuations in consumer purchasing behaviors given changes in product price and demand. He has found that demand for hearing aids and willingness of consumers to pay for them is inelastic due to limited product options, perceptions of the necessity of amplification, difficulty with comparing competitive options, and other determinants. In other words, Amlani’s research jibes with the industry adage that practitioners are selling a product that nobody wants—and for which consumers are not willing to pay.

Payment plans help practitioners overcome this problem. They are desirable for many because research tells us that the average person first tries hearing aids in their late 60s, is most likely retired, and has a fixed income that is a third or fourth of what they were making in their preretirement career, Amlani stated.

These people “don’t want to hear large lump-sum values” when deciding to purchase hearing aids, he said. This is why a payment plan, such as the ones offered by CareCredit, is often desirable; it breaks costs for hearing aids that may seem large into smaller, more manageable financial chunks. When talking about costs, it is best to deliver the price in a monthly payment. Say, for example, “Mr Smith, I’m recommending a pair of model XYZ to meet your hearing needs. The cost is $3,000 for the pair, or $76 per month.”

Offer payment plan options to every patient to meet the needs of people who are on fixed incomes, and also use due diligence to help patients who want their bank accounts and credit cards free in case of emergencies. You also will be providing an easy option to those who are jumping on the opportunity for better hearing before their preferred payment option—such as the use of money tied up in a CD—is possible.

Additionally, payment plans help to increase patient satisfaction with hearing aids. The rate for returns with hearing aids purchased with CareCredit payment plans is less than 4%—75% lower than the industry average of 17%. Why? Patients accept the hearing professional’s recommendation for the best fit with the help of a low monthly payment. The result is happier patients because they got a hearing aid that meets their hearing needs and fits comfortably in their monthly budget.

The Process of Better Hearing
Besides easing price concerns, it also is necessary to paint the most realistic picture possible of how hearing with hearing aids will progress. We have all heard stories of patients who walk out of the audiologist’s office with a new set of hearing aids, excited about the possibilities of hearing again in challenging situations, only to show up at the office a week later to return the hearing aids because they didn’t restore “perfect hearing.” Hearing professionals need to ensure that patients understand hearing rehabilitation is a process, not necessarily something that is completely resolved when the hearing aids are turned on.

In addition to explaining to patients what hearing aids can and cannot do, make them aware of options for further aural rehabilitation help and alternative technologies that can work with (or without) hearing aids to extend the ability to hear.

If you do not offer aural rehabilitation classes yourself, make patients aware of national and local organizations that empower people with hearing loss to insist on better hearing through self-advocacy. Prepare a handout listing Web sites for further information about support groups and additional useful information to meet this need for patients.

If you are considering setting up aural rehabilitation classes of your own, Amlani suggests identifying three to four key topics encompassing areas in which people with hearing loss may want assistance, such as compensatory strategies that improve communication when wearing hearing aids, and fashioning informational seminars based on these themes. Once you have developed your presentations, use direct mail or call patients to alert them to your new aural rehabilitation classes so they can attend them with you. Inform new patients of these classes during your conversations with them. Additionally, you may wish to offer a schedule of classes, in the office and online, so patients can decide which ones they would like to attend.

Assistive Listening Devices
Other than aural rehabilitation, make a point to offer patients assistive listening devices (ALDs) or at least inform them of companies from which these technologies can be ordered and purchased. Hearing professionals know that ALDs can boost the effectiveness of hearing aids in many environments, but sadly, many practitioners do not let their patients in on this secret. “We know that hearing aids aren’t going to solve all the listening world’s problems,” Amlani noted. “ALDs may aid a person in hearing better in certain everyday living activities.”

Practices that offer ALDs should have them on display for patients to try out. If you do not wish to carry assistive listening devices, you can contact the leading ALD providers for brochures that you can hand out to patients, or put together a handout listing Web sites of these manufacturers and distributors.

Customer service
At this point, you have invested a lot of effort in enabling your patients to understand the extent of their hearing loss through testing and feedback from their significant others, getting a clear picture of problem hearing environments, having the patient experience aided hearing, discussing the various payment options, and arming patients with additional information and technologies that will help with their rehabilitation. Through these actions, your patients should have gotten the impression that you care about their ability to hear and their contentment with the hearing aids you recommend. When these actions are executed properly, your patients should leave on a note of excitement at the possibility of improved hearing and confidence in you, the hearing professional. To extend these feelings indefinitely, and to also increase the odds of receiving referrals from patients, aftercare is important.

The field of audiology hinges on customer service, which is something professionals sometimes forget, Amlani said. “Once the patient has been served and the patient has gone through rehab, give them a call,” he suggested. “Follow up with them, find out how they’re doing, and see if there’s anything you can do to improve their quality of life.” Many hearing professionals take notes on personal information regarding patients—birthdays, anniversaries, names of children and grandchildren, etc; to further reinforce your relationship and gain pertinent information about satisfaction with the amplification you fit, ask how the patient’s hearing aids have enabled them to better enjoy an anniversary dinner or a day with the grandchildren. In the best scenario, your actions early on in the relationship will mean that the patient is still satisfied with the hearing aids. However, if any problems have come up, make it a point to get the patient into your office as soon as possible for needed adjustments.

Hearing health professionals know the amazing potential that hearing aids have to dramatically improve quality of life for people who have lived with an untreated hearing loss for years, but patients must be informed of this information in a realistic manner. Consider your protocols for meeting with patients to decide if you are doing all you can to ensure patients understand what hearing aids can and cannot do, to ensure that patients understand there are ways to make the costs of hearing aids more manageable, and to ensure that patients understand that your involvement in their journey to better hearing will not end once they walk out your door with their new amplification.

Content contributors: Ann Anderson, Paul Findly, Amyn Amlani, PhD

Reference
1. Lee K, Lotz P. Noise and silence in the hearing instrument industry. Working paper.  Frederiksberg, Denmark: Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics & Strategy; 1998.