AHAA Convention Presents Marketing Ideas

Miami — Hearing health professionals from across the US, along with the industry’s top manufacturers, attended American Hearing Aid Associates’ (AHAA) annual convention in Miami in February. Almost half of the more than 32 sessions dealt with improving office staff efficiency and customer service for increased profitability. The speakers included audiologists in the AHAA network and the company’s executives.

d02a.gif (788 bytes) AHAA Southwest regional manager Renee Hall summed up the importance of providing excellent customer service to existing patients: “You can increase your revenue by 30%…the cost of retaining a patient is only 20% of the cost of establishing a new one…you should compensate employees as much for keeping patients as you do for getting them in the door.”

Tod Borges, AHAA Pacific Mountain regional manager, pointed out the benefits of creating “key employees.” He said that key staff members can increase office revenues when given clear marketing and customer service goals, adding that businesses should include these people in incentive programs that give rewards for excellent performance.

In a related session, AHAA Central Atlantic regional manager Christian Pogreba discussed using, motivating, and rewarding staff for “capturing sales at the front desk.” Objectives include handling patient questions effectively, and getting referrals.

AHAA CEO Vince Russomagno addressed patient objections and emphasized that, when discussing price, hearing care professionals should stress the value of a person being able to hear well. He added that dispensing professionals can also demonstrate the more economically priced instruments that are available, as well as the more expensive ones. He also advised having a financing plan in place.

Today’s business environment is perhaps more disruptive than ever before, says Tina Soika, AHAA’s COO. She urged the audience to defend and maintain price and product integrity. “On pricing, for example, you can either try to match a competitor’s lower price—to your peril—or find ways to compete differently,” she said. “Look for new markets, new classes of potential clients, or new geographic areas to reach into.”

In a related presentation, AHAA Mid-Atlantic regional manager Mike Poole gave ideas for uncovering hidden sales opportunities in a practice, through increased service and marketing. One idea was promoting annual hearing tests. Another was creating a “detail person” whose primary mission is calling on potential new patient sources, such as nursing and retirement homes, agencies for the aging population, and school systems. He said that such personal calling efforts can produce productive results.

AHAA gave each attendee an inch-thick binder containing sample advertisements, newsletters, brochures, mailers, and flyers it had gathered from its associates. w

Privacy and Electronic Data Exchange Rules on Horizon
Washington, DC — Industry organizations have been gearing up their members for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, which goes into effect in April 2003. Essentially, HIPAA has two provisions: 1) a privacy rule designed to protect the confidentiality of client/patient records, and 2) an electronic data interchange (EDI) rule designed to increase the efficiency of electronic transmission of health care data.

The privacy rule portion of HIPAA, which takes effect on April 14, 2003, is meant to restrict the use and disclosure of personal health-related information that is in the possession of health care providers or other entities (eg insurers, health care clearinghouses). While this information would obviously include detailed health/medical information—such as a person’s audiogram or results from other hearing tests—it also applies to the patient’s name, address, Social Security number and other personal information.

The privacy rule will require that patients be presented with a “notice of privacy practices” that explains how their personal information will be used by the provider, and to whom the information will be disseminated. For example, a hearing care professional is often called upon to send audiometric information to a hearing instrument manufacturer, third-party payer and/or the individual’s doctor. The notice of privacy practices will need to spell out these procedures and provide patients with background on their rights under HIPAA. These rights include inspection of the individual’s medical record and the right to restrict the use of that information. Additionally, a patient consent form will be required to be signed by the client/patient that will give the health care provider permission to use and disseminate the pertinent information. Several organizations are currently working on helping their members prepare for these regulations, and a good current source is the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)Web site (www.asha.org).

The EDI rule, which goes into effect October 16, 2003, is intended to facilitate the transfer of electronic medical data in an efficient manner. Currently, there are hundreds of different formats for transmission of medical-related information, and the EDI rule will require that those entities covered by the law use the same transmission protocol and specific procedures to obtain and maintain the required hardware/software that deals with electronic data transmission.

Siemens Trivia Bowl Winners

d02b.jpg (10044 bytes) Philadelphia — This year’s Siemens Trivia Bowl, held at the conclusion of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) convention and attended by about 1,000 audiologists, was won by the team dubbed “Aural Sex.” Team members included: Lisa Lucks Mendel (captain), Sam Atcherson, Mandy Cerka, Srinhar Krishnamurti, Herb Gould, Ossama Sohbby, Jeff Danhauer, Heidi Silberstein, Tate Danhauer, and Ann Prohaska.

d02c.jpg (11271 bytes) Second place went to the “Ear-Resistables”, which included team members Kiara Ebinger (captain), John Shallot, Creig Dunckel, Paula Allison, Todd Ricketts, Ed Szumowski, Roxanne Keele, Gyl Kasewurm, Karen Jacobs, and Ann Beiter. w

ASHA Announces Withdrawal From AHHTI
San Diego — The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) announced its withdrawal from America’s Hearing Healthcare Team Initiative (AHHTI), a coalition of ASHA, the Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), American Neurotology Society, American Otologic Society, and the International Hearing Society (IHS). ASHA had faced criticism from the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) for its support of AHHTI, due to the coalition’s definitions of the healthcare team members and scopes of practice.

ASHA cited the different perspectives and cultures of the 3 professions as factors in the inability to reach an acceptable agreement on the definitions of the participants. Notably, ASHA says that it was unable to agree with AAO-HNS regarding the definition of the otolaryngologist as the supervisor of balance and hearing testing and dispenser of hearing aids, without any reference to the otolaryngologist’s primary role as a physician with responsibilities for the medical diagnosis and surgical treatment of hearing disorders. It also said that AHHTI was not working, because no public awareness campaign had been initiated after 1 year.

AAS Scientific Conference Sheds Light on Current Hearing Issues
Scottsdale, Ariz — Approximately 225 people attended the March 2002 meeting of the American Auditory Society (AAS) in Scottsdale, Ariz. The conference featured 50 platform papers, 4 special sessions, 13 mentored graduate audiology Rubel research posters, and 16 technology updates. Additionally, the conference featured the Carhart Memorial Lecture by Edwin W. Rubel, PhD (left), the awarding of an AAS Life Achievement award to Mark Ross, PhD, and a special award to Evelyn Cherow, MA.

Rubel, director of research in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Washington, and president of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, presented information on the progress of hair cell regeneration research in fish and birds, with comments about expectations with mammals—especially humans. Rubel’s information was based on research in his laboratory at the Virginia Merrill Bleodel Hearing Research Center, using cellular, molecular, and genetic methods of modern biology in working toward prevention and remediation of hearing loss. He related how the serendipitous observation of hair cell regeneration in birds led to attempts to extend this regenerative ability to the mammalian ear. A new research program is aimed at understanding the cellular cascades underlying hair cell death and the discovery of genes regulating this process, using fish, birds, and mammals. Rubel’s research encompasses four interrelated areas: development of auditory information processing, neuroembryology of the auditory system, hair cell regeneration, and the effects of experience on brain development.

An AAS Life Achievement award was presented to Mark Ross, PhD. Ross’ career in hearing rehabilitation dates to 1952, when he attended the Army Aural Rehabilitation program at Walter Reed Hospital, as a patient. Through his work, Ross has made many significant and lasting contributions to the field, including a book on educational audiology. He still writes regularly for the SHHH Journal, Volta Voices, and Hearing Review, and is one of the principal investigators at the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center at the Lexington School for the Deaf, New York.

Evelyn Cherow, MA, former ASHA audiology representative, was presented with a special award by AAS recognizing her distinguished career in furthering the profession of audiology by promoting continuing education, developing practice policies, and influencing legislative and regulatory changes for the past 20 years.

Mentored Graduate Audiology Research awards were given to 13 students, who presented their work via poster sessions at the meeting, following an introduction by James Jerger, PhD. The 2001 Ear and Hearing Editor-in-Chief Award for Outstanding Research in Audiology and the Hearing Sciences was shared by Donald Dirks, PhD, and Kelly Tremblay, PhD.

The 2003 AAS meeting will be held in Scottsdale on March 11-13. For more information, contact: Wayne J. Staab, PhD, at (435) 574-0062; Web site: www.amauditorysoc.org.

NASED Holds Annual Meeting; Honors Stowe
Philadelphia — The National Association of Special Equipment Distributors (NASED) presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Gordon Stowe at its annual meeting, held during the recent AAA convention.

In presenting the award, Barbara Kurman, president of NASED, complimented Stowe on “setting a standard of excellence for the profession of special equipment.” Stowe graduated from Northwestern University in 1945 with a BS in electrical engineering. After serving in the Navy, he began his career at the University of Illinois, developing audiological test equipment. In 1956, he formed Gordon Stowe and Associates, where he worked until his retirement in 1990. Stowe thanked NASED for the award and said he was “impressed with NASED for putting authenticity behind calibration.”

The annual business meeting and election of new officers followed the award presentation. Sherman Lord was elected president, Paul Dinice was elected public relations chairman, Jim Schilling as head of business development, and Tim Deshler as membership chairman. Also, Roger Ott was elected treasurer and Lance Brown was elected chair of communications. Barbara Kurman was thanked for her efforts as president for the past several years.

NASED is the only national group dedicated to maintaining levels of standard for hearing testing equipment. Member companies, located throughout the country, employ technicians who are trained and monitored to ensure their knowledge and skills. NASED members must verify the accuracy of their measuring devices, supply documentation, and maintain an ongoing review of calibration methods. The nonprofit trade association was founded on the principle of nationally elevating and codifying the technical proficiencies of member service organizations to meet their service and calibration needs. For more information about NASED members, standards, and criteria, visit www.nased.com.

Millennium Conference Looks at Power Issues

Philadelphia—Hearing industry engineers and power source experts attended a 2-day seminar and information-sharing meeting sponsored by John Oltman, a private consultant for the battery and energy source field. The Millennium Conference II looked at the numerous possibilities inherent in the future of hearing instrument and implant power sources. Presentations included: marketing trends and directions; principles and design considerations of hearing aid batteries; rechargeable battery solutions; fuel cells and alternate energy sources; IEC and ANSI test protocols; expected developments in hearing aids; trends and directions in DSP power; new trends in component development; evolving circuits; and consumer needs relative to power sources. The meeting included an Italian dinner sponsored by Renata.

GSI sponsors Hearing Healthy Days at Capitol
Washington, DC — Grason-Stadler (GSI), Madison, Wis, a division of VIASYS Healthcare Inc, was an official sponsor of the National Campaign for Hearing Health’s Hearing Healthy Kids Days 2002. The annual event, which took place May 21 on Capitol Hill, is a comprehensive public awareness campaign to educate health care providers, policy makers, and new and expectant parents about the importance of raising a hearing healthy child, and to bring a renewed commitment to universal newborn hearing screening.

The event includes a state-by-state report card on newborn hearing screening, and a fair on the grounds of the Washington Monument, where families can see hands-on demonstrations and learn more about newborn hearing screening, as well as how to care for their children’s hearing health.

GSI recently launched a new, state-of-the-art newborn hearing screening device called the Audioscreener, which combines evoked otoacoustic emissions (OAE) and auditory brainstem response (ABR) tests in a single, handheld, PC-free unit. “The GSI Audioscreener marks an exciting new advancement in newborn hearing screening technologies,” says company President Gerry Brew. “By combining OAE and ABR tests into a single, truly portable device, we are leading the way for simple, advanced, and reliable hearing screening.”

Gennum and Dspfactory Forge Strategic Supply Agreement
Burlington, Ontario — Dspfactory Ltd, a provider of programmable digital signal processing (DSP) technology for hearing aids, headsets, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other portable devices, announced a strategic supply agreement with Gennum Corp, a major provider of integrated circuits and related technologies to the global hearing instrument market.

Gennum will embed Dspfactory’s advanced digital technology within a new line of advanced digital hearing products, configured by Gennum with advanced DSP algorithms and features. The agreement will facilitate a cooperative working relationship between the two companies, within the fast-growing digital hearing instrument market.

“We expect the rapidly expanding digital hearing instrument market will be a significant driver of our revenue growth,” says Gora Ganguli, vice president and general manager of Gennum’s hearing instrument products division. “We are very committed to providing world-leading audio processing and sound quality with low power consumption within a small footprint, and it was very important that Dspfactory also share this commitment to innovation and excellence.”

Audioscan meeting

Welcoming distributors to the Audioscan annual breakfast meeting are (l-r): Roger Whittle, sales director; William Cole, president; and James Jonkman, vice president.

Audioscan, a division of Etymonic Design Inc, London, Ontario, welcomed special equipment distributors to its annual breakfast meeting, held at Loews Hotel during the recent AAA convention. An overview of the past year was presented by Bill Cole, president. Awards and cash bonuses were presented to distributors by Cole and Roger Whittle, sales director. w

Smoking During Pregnancy May Increase Ear Infections
New York — Mothers who smoke during and after pregnancy increase the risks of their infants suffering chronic ear infections, according to a report published in the February 2002 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Researchers found that the risk of infants acquiring ear infections was not increased by post natal exposure to smoke, but was slightly increased by being exposed to smoke in the womb or by being exposed to smoke both before and after birth. In addition, the risk of acquiring chronic ear infections, which is defined as more than six episodes in a lifetime, was 44% higher in children who were exposed to smoke both during pregnancy as well as after birth.