Are you looking for ways to stay competitive and improve efficiency and office workflows, while also trying to boost profits? Like many other hearing care providers, you also may be aiming to do so while facing slimmer margins.

What would happen if you adjusted your pricing strategy? Or, what would change if you used texts and other digital communication methods to manage appointments? By trying techniques such as these, you could start seeing subtle, positive shifts in your hearing healthcare business. Did you know that your pricing, efficiency, and productivity are the 3 factors that keep you competitive? This article touches on these 3 key areas.

#1: PRICING

The way you handle your pricing can have a huge effect on your competitive edge and the future of your practice. Here are strategies to consider:

Lower your prices for a few, select products/services – If you’ve done an analysis of your pricing structure and have a well-thought-out strategy, then dropping prices on only certain products or services could help a lot. If you are an enrolled provider with CareCredit, you can access the CareCredit marketing kit for guidance on developing a pricing strategy.

The Hearing Review 2015-16 hearing aid pricing survey indicated an “extremely logical good-better-best pricing structure:”

  • median price of $1,500 for economy
  • $2,250 for mid-level
  • $3,000 for premium aids

competitive pricing of hearing aidsWhen asked about their lowest-priced hearing aid offered, dispensers who were surveyed reported a median price of $995 and an average price of $1,010.

Many practices are turning to a tiered pricing structure (with a $750 difference between levels). When faced with competitive pressure from Big Box retailers, insurance, and online sales, many practices are responding with lower-cost options. Yet, their offerings still tend to cost more than those of the competition. Why? Because they factor in the added value of specialized hearing professional services and personalized care.

Be choosy about dropping your prices, and keep these cautions in mind: If you offer too many “bargains,” your prospects and new patients may wait for other “sales” and not return to your practice in between. This could lower your net income in the long-run. Also, price-cutting schemes may also turn off some long-time, loyal patients who paid full price. This can negatively affect your margins.

Consider changing your product mix – This works well for some practices and not for others. It all depends on the price you assign to each kind of technology. Alternately, you may decide to unbundle your products and/or services in one of these ways:

  • Create a list of services and their prices—and then charge your patients for these services as they use them (while lowering the prices for the associated devices).
  • Make a “Fee-for-Service” model and charge the insurance companies. This is tricky since you’ll need a strong knowledge of insurance billing and CPT- and V-codes (and a solid relationship with insurance companies).
  • Continue using a “bundled” pricing strategy. However, make sure your staff members (and you) talk with your patients about all the services that come with their hearing aids and the benefits that accompany them.
  • Consider what to do about new assistive listening devices. As you know, the consumer electronics industry is chipping off a very small portion of the hearing aid market—offering devices that are less costly and readily available to patients without involving audiologists. You may consider offering Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) in your practice to help some patients who aren’t yet ready for hearing aids to hear better, and also for others to hear better with their current hearing aids. Both strategies can help boost patient loyalty—they are more likely to think of you when they are ready to transition to their first hearing aids, or the next time they upgrade their hearing aids. See the 4MyHearingBiz article on the PSAPs and ALDs subject.

“I think we have to change and be willing to have additional options for patients,” says Lynn Firestone, audiologist in Farmington, Conn. She joins the growing legions of hearing health professionals who also offer PSAPs to customers in their practices.

Develop a “fighting brand.”

This is a lower-priced product/service offered by a company to “fight against” a competitor who is trying to under-price that company. For example, a national retailer offers lower-priced goods to fill its outlet stores—and these are not the same quality as the “main store” or “department store” lines. Yet, customers purchase both!

“If not managed carefully, a ‘fighting brand’ can cannibalize existing brands,” says Tina Soika, MS, president of American Hearing Aid Associates (AHAA) in Chadds Ford, PA. “You must make sure your professional staff members know how to use the fighting brand appropriately.”

But the pros of having a “fighting brand” are that it helps to keep the pricing reliability/status of brand-name products, and it also satisfies price-sensitive customers.

For more information on pricing, including a patient’s typical path to purchasing hearing aids, read about the April 13, 2016 “Path to Purchase” Symposium, co-hosted by CareCredit and The Hearing Review at AudiologyNOW! 2016

#2: EFFICIENCY

Improving the efficiency of your business is an alternative to cutting costs. Here are suggestions to consider:

Staff training —“Only do work that others cannot do.” As a hearing health practice owner, you have a variety of tasks—some of which can be done by others if they have proper training. This will free up your time to focus on the patient care aspects of your business while you delegate the office work and most marketing/education tasks (ie, data collection, patient education) to your trained assistants.

Caution: If you’ve had trouble with assigning tasks in the past, be sure you are not “dumping” the work on your staff. “Delegating” is different than “dumping.” In a nutshell, delegating means that after you ask a staff member to do something, you don’t walk away because that would be viewed as “dumping” work on them. Instead, choose to “delegate” this way:

  • Set goals and explain them to make sure staff understand their tasks
  • Train your staff members
  • Give them feedback

It may seem like a lot of time up-front, but it will pay off in the long-run when the result is that they do their jobs more efficiently and correctly—and with greater satisfaction (and better results)!

Call-backs —You may decide to delegate return-calls to your patients, which can improve data collection. For instance, direct your staff to highlight critical hearing health information on the patient’s record so that you don’t overlook it during their visit. Instead of telling your assistant what you need, use a routing slip/super-bill as an order form—written communication is more reliable than verbal instructions. Checking a box can improve efficiency.

Create handouts—Think about how many times you jot down the same information and what would happen if you did not have to do this repeatedly. If your patients need important details, you can make handouts to keep in your exam rooms. Ask CareCredit about their marketing kit, which includes educational materials that you can adapt.

Before buying office equipment, make sure your staff will use it. For example, compare the cost of a new copier to the rate you pay your staffer who has the role of making copies, collating, and stapling. You might find out that the newer machine will pay off if it can be automated to perform all those tasks. In that way, your staff member can spend his or her time on other, more vital tasks. Or, if your staff rarely needs to do that type of work, you might send off big print jobs to shops like a FedEx Copy Center. If you’re a group practice with half a dozen doctors and audiologists, it may be wise to get new equipment for your office. Annual conferences can be a great place to learn about the latest technology other offices are using. The AuDacity conference from the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), for example, is a good place to learn what services and equipment other hearing care practitioners are using to make their offices more efficient. Also, encourage your office manager to participate in networking events or join local business-related organizations to see what’s new.

“Lean-out” the process for billing. Cut the clutter! Reduce paperwork and calls about billing by using digital medical billing services and other cloud-based options. This helps keep invoicing/payments updated and statements clear. Plus, you can take advantage of helpful resources available through third-party services.

#3: PRODUCTIVITY

“One of the key components of increasing your practice’s productivity is to look at your scheduling strategies,” suggests Tina Soika, MS. “Tweaking them slightly—or a lot—can help you deal with increasing cancellation and no-show rates.”

The usual way to schedule appointments is as follows: Each week, the practice has 30, 1-hour hearing evaluations (HAE)– mostly in the mornings, with 8 more in the afternoons. They also include fitting or service slots later in the day.  There are also “no-shows” and “tested-not-sold” categories in this model.

Add more appointment slots: To go from 38 to 44 opportunities each week, try adding (two) 30-minute and (two) 15-minute screenings per day.

Change hours:  Improve customer service (and profits) by managing your productivity while increasing capacity and convenience. What does this mean? Your practice operates in a retail environment, so patients expect to get what they want, when they desire it and on their terms. So you need to meet and exceed such expectations. Have you considered offering your patients a few evening hours or Saturday appointments? It’s likely that some of your competitors are doing this.

Offer your staffers pay increases or bonuses, if possible: If certain employees are “revenue producers,” consider making them full-time employees. Of course, this needs to align with your practice’s growth. Also, you can give bonuses to staff members as rewards for making new appointments, getting patients to upgrade their devices, obtaining new patient referrals, and booking more appointments from new lead calls that come to the office.

Establish a physician referral program:  Adding a representative on your staff who implements such a program can make a difference in boosting your patient roster.

Ensure that “fitting protocols” are followed: Some of these protocols can include calling new leads and prospects within 24 hours, and holding daily huddles with your staff to drive filling the schedule.

Final Thoughts

As you think about ways to maximize results by changing processes within your practice, remember to maintain relationships in your community and with its leaders, physicians, and patients. Becoming more efficient in your practice means that more people in your local area will spread the word of your excellent care and service quality, and this will boost your reputation. And the greater success you will have!

This content is provided to the 4MyHearingBiz community courtesy of CareCredit, and The Hearing Review.

Image credits: CareCredit; © Robert Kneschke | Dreamstime.com