The way Americans seek, pay for, and gauge the effectiveness of medical treatment is changing, and hearing care professionals must take action to ensure their practices survive as well as thrive in the near future.
This is one of the takeaways from “The Changing Landscape of Medicine & Healthcare,” a webinar presented by Brian Taylor, AuD. Taylor’s presentation is one of three that comprise “Building a Business with Physician Referrals,” a free webinar hosted by The Hearing Review and sponsored by CareCredit.
An audiologist with nearly 25 years of experience as well as a noted author, lecturer, and opinion leader, Taylor urges practitioners to recognize the “clinical equivalents” within their control—cost, access, and quality, and how these factors will affect each patient’s path to treatment in what Taylor describes as a “very exciting” future for hearing care.
“There may be a few roadblocks here and there,” says Taylor in the webinar. “But, for the most part, I want to paint a pretty optimistic picture of how hearing healthcare can really thrive within the evolving healthcare landscape.”
Taylor began his presentation with a chart created by The Advisory Board Company titled “Health Care Then & Now: What’s Changed Since the Days of Don Draper?” outlining the growing cost of health care. This cost—which has increased from nearly 10% of gross domestic product in 1960 to about 20% today—is influenced by factors such as an increase in population and life expectancy, as well as greater Medicare enrollment.
In that time, the practice of medicine itself has also shifted, says Taylor. Fifty years ago, the focus was on infectious diseases and, today, it’s shifted toward preventive care, wellness programs, the treatment of chronic conditions, and patient-centered care.
The end result is a growing, aging population that is seeking care—and looking for every opportunity to save money. Taylor suggests audiologists consider “alternative delivery models” for the handling of some routine aspects of care, including:
- Community healthcare workers
- Audiology assistants
- Telehealth services
- Kiosks with computerized testing
Utilizing these models can allow the primary practitioner to spend more time with the so-called “complicated patients” who demand it. To help predict whether a patient will be “routine” or “complex,” Taylor offers a working model of the “Communication Hexagram,” which requires the clinician to rate each patient on a scale of zero to four on the following six factors:
- Cognitive ability
- Physical ability
- Overall outlook or attitude
- Self-reported hearing loss
- Family support
In Taylor’s analysis, a rating of three or two in one or more areas could signal a patient will demand an inordinate amount of the audiologist’s time and expertise.
Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids—also known as direct-to-consumer (DTC) devices—may be seen by audiologists and retailers as a threat to a traditional clinical model of hearing care, as well as to their businesses.
But Taylor believes the hearing care professional can and should play a role in the process, even if they didn’t sell the device to the patient. He suggests audiologists can “have a say” by:
- Working with OTC devices,
- Ensuring effective labeling,
- Ensuring devices meet a pre-defined acoustic standard,
- Conducting probe-mic analyses.
Referring to the World Health Organization’s “International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) Model,” Taylor explains how physical conditions can be conceptualized as the interaction of a number of factors, including:
- Environmental and personal factors
- Body functions and structures
Audiologists are trained to measure outcomes by testing: If a patient’s hearing is protected and optimized, a positive outcome has been achieved. In the changing medical landscape, Taylor argues, practitioners must think outside the box.
“Rather than focus on test results and the technology, focus on how we can improve daily function for the patient,” he says.
Taylor suggests working with patients to set shared goals to measure the quality of their treatment. Hearing loss may affect their ability to participate in activities they enjoy. Left unchecked, it can cause sufferers to isolate themselves socially, increasing the risk of depression and accelerating cognitive decline.
Audiologists can make the value of their services clear by asking patients how they hope treatment will change their daily lives. Follow-up should include testing as well as time spent to revisit each patient’s stated goals and uncover new ones.
Taylor concludes the webinar by once again urging audiologists to open their practices to OTC device users. To create a “viable service model” for these patients, he suggests “unbundling” audiology services by offering short- and long-term care that can be matched with any device the patient might select.
For patients who are unable to afford treatment or devices, Taylor recommends offering a financing option. “Access and cost can be important barriers to overcome…We [must] have some strategy for offering patient financing, and I think CareCredit is a great tool that allows you to overcome that potential barrier around cost.”
Describing hearing care as a “noble profession,” Taylor says audiologists bring two key attributes to the table: The ability to customize treatment options and the opportunity to serve as both counselor and educator for their patients and their communities.
“My message to you is to focus your time and skills and attention on doing an outstanding job at these two things,” Taylor says.
To watch the free, three-part webinar, click here.