May is Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM). Traditionally, this is the time that hearing care professionals flood the media with messages about getting your hearing checked, as well as messages that “better hearing equals better living.” Here are five ideas for BHSM:

1) Get your message out. BHSM has been undergoing something of a renaissance in the last couple of years—and with good reason. Let’s face it: we are a small industry of fewer than 15,000 dispensing offices. However, when every one of those offices shouts at the same time—in May—we get heard. This year, the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) is offering a BHSM Kit that can be downloaded at www.betterhearing.org/professionals/turnkey09.cfm. The kit contains customizable press releases, a backgrounder on hearing care, feature news articles, notes for doing interviews with reporters, as well as the BHI Screening Audiogram form and Quick Hearing Check.

2) Reach out to physicians. Reaching out to medical professionals with a letter and/or personal call is a great way to promote hearing awareness in your community, as well as secure new referral sources. Yeuh et al (April 16, 2003, JAMA, Vol 289, No 15) noted that, although about 40% of the US population older than age 65 suffers from hearing loss that a simple screening can detect, fewer than 10% of internists offer routine testing to older patients. His research also discussed how undiagnosed hearing loss can lead to problems such as depression and social isolation, and the paper concludes that “the primary care physician should vigilantly ask about hearing loss in older patients and recognize common symptoms of hearing impairment, such as communication impairment and social withdrawal.” For more statistics on quality of life and hearing aids, see Kochkin & Rogin’s NCOA article in the January 2000 HR available at www.betterhearing.org/pdfs/MR40.pdf. BHI also offers the Physician Referral Development Program (www.betterhearing.org/professionals/PRDP.cfm).

3) Become an advocate for the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Bill. Audiologist Juliette Sterkens of Oshkosh, Wis, has become my hero with her innovative advocacy. Among several ideas—including her Fox Valley Hearing Loop Initiative—she has also devised an advocacy card to hand out to patients (and others) that states: “Your US Representatives and Senators are considering a proposal to provide you with a Tax Credit: $500 for 1 or $1000 for 2 aids. Visit: www.hearingaidtaxcredit.org. Better yet: Pick up the phone and voice your support [included are the phone numbers of the appropriate senators and representatives].” The bottom line: We need everyone possible to visit www.hearingaidtaxcredit.org and to contact with legislators about the importance of this bill—especially you and your patients!

4) Use poignant reminders. Sterkens also suggests including two disposable earplugs in correspondence to legislators with the message: “I enclosed two disposable earplugs. When properly inserted these earplugs would give you a temporary hearing loss of about 25-30 dB. You will quickly get an idea of what partial hearing loss is all about if you were to wear these plugs for just one day at work ‘on the Hill,’ at a fundraising dinner, or at meetings. While in some situations this may seem like bliss, you will soon come to the realization of how much we really depend on this critical sensory ability. Thank you for your time and consideration.”

5) Beat the market with the right approach. It shouldn’t come as a shock that the fourth quarter of 2008 was rough for many dispensing professionals. Overall, private dispensing offices (ie, non-VA) experienced a 6.6% decrease in unit volume compared to the previous year. The good news is that, in the first quarter of 2009, these same offices showed a half-percentage (0.4%) increase. While that’s not anything to jump up and down about, it may evoke a sigh of relief. Overall hearing aid unit sales (including the VA) in the first quarter increased by 3.4%. Hearing health care is recession-resistant partly because, once people understand the impact of their hearing loss, they no longer consider hearing aids a “discretionary purchase”; at that point, they become a medical necessity. In the April edition of HR, Paul Findly’s article made the excellent point that your patients should not have to wait for the economy to improve before improving their hearing health and lifestyle. Life is too short.

So is May’s BHSM. Get your message out to those who need to hear it!

Karl Strom
Editor-In-Chief