Times are changing. Just ask anyone working in the entertainment industry. Cable companies and home satellite dish providers want their viewers to subscribe to groups of channels. Their viewers prefer to stream individual episodes of shows. Musicians and producers want their fans to buy albums. Their fans prefer to buy songs one at a time, or play them for free on YouTube.
In short, new delivery methods are changing expectations. Consumers have more buying power than ever. The proliferation of choices grants us the ability to customize our experience. Older consumers are grateful for the flexibility. Younger consumers have learned to expect it.
The hearing care industry is no exception. Big box stores and online retailers are selling over-the-counter amplification devices. They may not be the best solution for all hearing loss sufferers. And they certainly don’t come with the full range of professional services you offer as hearing care practitioners. But they are popular, and they imbue their users with a powerful sense of self-determination.
You may be able to duplicate this experience at your office. “Unbundling” the costs of devices and care could make your practice more appealing to those patients who demand transparency and freedom of choice.
The Great Debate
Bundling the cost of hearing aids with the cost of evaluation and ongoing treatment is standard practice. It has been the preferred delivery model of choice since the 1970s. But it’s clear the hearing care industry has recognized the ongoing evolution of consumer expectations.
Among other measures, last year’s meeting of the Committee on Accessible and Affordable Hearing Health Care for Adults resulted in the recommendation that audiologists unbundle the costs of devices and services “for greater price transparency.”
In “The Pros and Cons of Bundling Your Hearing Care Services,” we discussed the realities of unbundling patient costs. Transparency in pricing fell into both categories. On the “pro” side, patients who purchase unbundled services get a clear sense of the value of your services. On the “con” side, patients may question that value, and there is no opportunity for “free” add-ins.
Of course, transparency is neither the only positive nor the only negative to unbundling. Other pros include improved price-competitiveness with larger retailers, the ability to tap into the online marketplace, and greater revenue potential in most managed-care situations.
The list of cons includes incompatibility with some managed-care plans, the multiplicity of patient invoices, and the need for patients to pay a fixed, per-device rate for ongoing maintenance.
Dennis Van Vliet is an audiologist and senior director of professional relations for Eden Prairie, Minn-based Starkey Hearing Technologies. As he explained to 4MyHearingBiz, an “eclectic” approach to unbundling may be the most advantageous path.
“There are times when the simplicity of a bundled fee makes the most sense with certain consumers,” Van Vliet said. “Even with the bundled approach, calling out and ‘itemizing’ the services included provides full disclosure of what the consumer is paying for.”
The CareCredit Effect
The cost of proper hearing care remains a powerful deterrent for many patients. Unbundling your patients’ charges is not likely to defray the “sticker shock” inherent to any audiology practice. Patients may appreciate the transparency of unbundled charges. But reading a list of charges is no less startling than one big charge for those who are living on a fixed income.
Offering a financing option could prove crucial to maintaining your practice and protecting your patients’ hearing. CareCredit is a health and wellness credit card your patients can use to divide high upfront costs into monthly installments. Your partnership with CareCredit includes free marketing materials you can display in your office and share with your patients. They can even apply for their card at your office, privately and securely, using the CareCredit Direct credit application portal.
Patient expectations are changing. Audiologists are adapting their delivery models to suit them. Whether you decide to stick with bundled charges or offer hearing care services à la carte, partnering with CareCredit can be a difference-maker for your practice.