Opinion: Valuable Services

photoThe need to affix value to specific professional services—in other words, unbundling fees for testing, fitting, counseling and follow-up care—has never been greater than today. In our changing world of e-commerce, third-party reimbursement and rapidly developing technology, placing a value on audiological services may, ultimately, prove to be a matter of professional survival for all dispensing professions.

Sometimes forgotten in the hearing care process is the important distinction between the procurement of a case history and audiological evaluation along with the prerequisite counseling, versus the treatment of the hearing problem through the provision of a product. The two should not be confused. While each requires time and skill on the part of the dispensing professional, recent studies indicate that it is, by far, the former that is the largest determinant of customer satisfaction. George Osborne, PhD, detailed this premise in an article more than five years ago in HR (“How to Determine Pricing for Hearing Care Services,” Mar ‘95, pgs. 48-52). One of his key points was that there is only one way to deep-discount a product: Stop serving the patient. In other words, audiological and aural rehab services have a monetary value usually commensurate to the time spent and/or equipment used in performing those services. They should not be “lumped in” with the cost of a hearing instrument for the sake of simplicity.

Affixing value to services may have large implications in the future of hearing care. A few examples include:

Third-party reimbursement: Bundling fees for screening, assessment, hearing aid evaluations and follow-up sends a dreadful message to HMOs that these services have no value. All hearing care professions need to demonstrate that these are not “free” or “throw-in” services—or that’s what they will become.

Internet and Retail Hearing Aids: For better or worse, it seems inevitable that consumers will have increasing access to a variety of hearing-related products dispensed outside the professional channels (e.g., the Internet). Hearing care professionals will need to demonstrate to consumers in concrete terms that these same (or superior) types of products are offered by them in the form of effective, comprehensive, and verifiable hearing health care—and that this comprehensive health care has value. Professionals also need to prepare for greater numbers of people who are dissatisfied with the products they purchased through non-traditional channels and who expect the professional to correct the problem.

Technology: Fitting technology is progressing to a point where it doesn’t take as long to program even the most sophisticated hearing instruments. In many (if not most) cases, the “first fit” solution is the best fit. Unfortunately, what has remained the same (or increased in some cases) is the time required for setting expectations, and the orientation and counseling necessary for the client to use the devices effectively. (See Mark Ross’ article in this issue of HR.)

In summary, hearing health care professionals don’t just dispense a product; they dispense hearing care. Hearing care services come at a price to the dispensing office, they are effective for the consumer, and they have a value that should not remain hidden by bundling prices. u

Karl Strom