Rob Morris

Over the past decade, Betty has been gradually experiencing hearing loss. At first, it was almost imperceptible and easy to adapt to the change. But now the loss is affecting her ability to interact socially, especially with her young granddaughter. At her audiologist’s office, she is examined and provided with a recommendation for an inner-canal digital instrument. The cost is $3,200. For Betty, there was no way she was going to sacrifice her relationship with her family, and only one way she was able to get optimal technology. Her audiologist offered her the ability to pay for her hearing device with a 12-month no-interest payment plan from a third-party financing company.

A Financing Solution
The average American only has about $300 available credit on their consumer credit cards and cannot comfortably write a check for more than $500 out of their monthly cash flow. So, for many patients, especially those retired and on a fixed income, the total cost of the hearing instrument is not their primary concern. It is how to fit it into their budget. Having the ability to pay over time with convenient, low monthly payments can literally mean the difference between compromise and optimal hearing health.

That is why so many hearing care professionals are turning to third-party financing as a solution for their patients and practice. About 3 years ago, our company’s third-party financing was made available to audiology practices and patients. The company has been extremely successful in other health care fields, such as dentistry, veterinary science, and vision, and is being used by more than 35,000 practices and 1 million patients. We have discovered that a third-party financing partner can make it easier to help patients get optimal technology.

Good for Patients
The decision to get a hearing aid can often take a long time and can be very difficult or the individual, especially those who are older. “Hearing aids are what we call ‘visible signs of aging,’” explains Frank Conaway, mature market expert. “Many people do not want to be considered old or impaired in any way, and therefore are reluctant to see their audiologist, even when their hearing loss impacts the quality of their life.” And even the younger patients tend to postpone this important decision. “The Boomers are experiencing hearing loss at a younger age than the generations before them,” continues Conaway. “But you have to remember, the Boomers are the ‘me generation.’ They are extremely conscious of their appearance. So, it’s important for audiologists to realize that once an individual makes the commitment to learn about how hearing aids can improve his or her lifestyle, they have to make the entire process as easy as possible.”

One way we have found, is to provide patients with a financing solution before cost can become a concern and a barrier to purchasing ideal technology. With a third-party financing program, one can offer patients the ability to pay over time, with no money down. So they can immediately accept the professional’s best care recommendations. It is best to tell patients about these payment options immediately, so they can consider the best technology to fit their hearing needs. Otherwise, they will promise to go home and think about it or discuss it with their spouse, and the professional will never see them again. Or, worse, they will ask for a lesser quality option, and be unhappy with the results. (Then, unfortunately, you will see them again—when they come in to return the hearing device!)

And Good for Your Practice
It is obvious, and it makes economical sense that if patients need a monthly payment plan to more easily accept optimal hearing aid technology, practices need to be able to provide them with one. But, in the current economic climate, offering patients credit through private business is just too risky and expensive. That’s why third-party financing is a true win-win solution. Practices using the program have found there are many benefits, from increasing acceptance of optimal technology and minimizing returns to improving cash flow. Beyond the financial aspects, these plans can also enhance patient relationships and increase patient referrals.

“Personal relationships are still very important to the older generations. They will go out of their way to refer their friends and family to companies and professionals they feel have treated them well,” explains Conaway. “One of the most powerful marketing tools you will ever have is word-of-mouth referrals, so make sure you do everything to make your patients happy. You’ll be glad you did!”

When the changing demographics of the population are considered—especially with the number of aging Baby Boomers—one can see it is necessary to offer a financing solution, and it will become even more important in the future.

The Future of Aging America
We all know that hearing loss becomes more prominent as we age. Of those aged 65 to 74 years, just about 30% suffer some level of hearing loss. This increases to 50% for those ages 75 years and older. So, what does this mean for the future of hearing health care? “Currently, there are about 79 million Americans who are considered to be in the mature market,” explains Conaway. “They represent about one third of our population. By the year 2020, this percentage will grow to about 36% of our population, fueled by the aging of the Baby Boomers. Today, there are about 50,000 people who have celebrated their 100th birthday. It is anticipated that more than 3 million Baby Boomers will join this exclusive centenarian club. The implications for hearing health care are obvious. There will be more older people with hearing loss living longer.”

In hearing health, offering third-party financing makes providing optimal technology easier. And, by the looks of the aging of America, its arrival into the market has come just in time.

Over the past few years, we have heard from many practices and their patients, just like Betty, how our third-party financing company has made a difference in their lives by helping more accept optimal care. As America continues to age, companies like ours will respond with programs designed to make optimal hearing health accessible to more and more patients.

Rob Morris is the vice president of marketing at CareCredit, Anaheim, Calif.