Hearing Healthcare in Ophthalmology (Audiology)
Today, over 30 million senior-aged Americans and perhaps an equal number of baby boomers suffer from hearing loss. Hearing loss is one of the most widespread, chronic health care problems facing the aging population today. Recent studies have shown that almost 50% of the baby boomer population is experiencing significant hearing loss as much as 20 years earlier than previous generations. So what is being done to meet the needs of these patients? Are these patients getting routine hearing exams at audiology practices? Surprisingly, most of the hearing deficient population does nothing about hearing degradation or inability to hear to difficult environments. As medical professionals we might want to think about evaluating hearing in a different way. Some early pioneers have actually started adopting hearing in the field of eye care.
The first time I ever heard about the integration of audiology and ophthalmology was at Dr. Jim Lewis’s office in Philadelphia in 2001. Dr. Lewis mostly recognized for his excellence in the field of ophthalmology had actually separated his office into two main sections. One section was built with lanes for ophthalmology and on the other side was a practice built just for audiology. At first I thought this was a bit enigmatic for an eye doctor, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that this was a great revenue generator for his practice. Dr. Lewis had mentioned that he routinely sees a large volume of cataract cases and that most of his patients had difficulty hearing him during his initial cataract evaluations. Since he was already seeing the ideal hearing aid patient he figured why not perform hearing tests and sell hearing aids to them at the same time. In retrospect, Dr. Lewis was years ahead of his time as we now see multiple companies that provide physician-hearing services in the field of ophthalmology.
If you are an ophthalmology practice seeking to create new lines of revenue you might consider the power of selling hearing aids and conducting hearing screening tests at the practice level. Of course many expansion opportunities cross the path of ophthalmology offices. In recent years we have seen the skin care and cosmetic eyelid enhancement field emerge from within ophthalmology practices. Many practices have been successful at this but many have not been successful. For those practices unaccustomed to external marketing these revenue extension businesses have proven difficult at best. The cosmetic enhancement effort requires significant marketing dollars and “know how” that might not be easy for a comprehensive marketing practice. Hearing healthcare in ophthalmology on the other hand offers a better chance of success.
Why does a hearing program in your ophthalmology practice make sense?
- Hearing tests can be reimbursed by Medicare if the appropriate protocol is followed.
- Most ophthalmology practices see a significant amount of cataract-aged patients that have some level of hearing loss.
- Overhead can be extremely low to staff your office with one person designed to perform tests and sell hearing aids. There are some business opportunities for ophthalmologists that can even reduce risk and eliminate a staffing alternative altogether.
Why do patients go to an ophthalmologist when they cannot see but why do they not go to an audiologist when they cannot hear?
We know that most cataract-aged patients have some level of hearing loss but they typically do nothing about it. Studies show that people unnecessarily struggle through life with hearing loss. Many people are simply not aware they cannot hear well. Many people also do not like the idea of seeing an audiologist because they are afraid to wear a noticeable object in their ear. Many people think hearing aids are the mark of old person. Believe it or not many people that need hearing actually have some level of marked frustration with their spouse over not being able hear the TV or always asking what was said in a noisy room.
Important Factors for setting up hearing services at your ophthalmology practice
Working with a reliable partner
A systematic relationship will need to be established in terms of providing hearing aids and hearing tests. Practice level implementation will be key and developing an overall pull-through system will be vital to the success of the program. Various companies in the ophthalmology forum can help you design a system that works for you.
Practice-level buy in
In much the same way many practices have needed to shift from a Medicare cataract reimbursement methodology to a more retail oriented cash based system to sell premium intraocular lens implants they will need to use the same mentality when applying hearing services. Buy in from staff and physicians alike will be one of the most critical components of success.
Setting up for ophthalmology hearing clinic FAQ
1. Q: What is involved with the hearing tests that are conducted at the practice in order to prescribe hearing aids?
A: You will need to research the process of a process to provide hearing tests. Hiring an internal person can be costly and not the most efficient method. Check with consultants or hearing aid companies to see if hearing professionals can travel to your practice for weekly evaluations.
2. Q: What is involved with marketing hearing services at my eye care practice. Do I need to establish a website dedicated to promoting hearing health at my ophthalmology practice?
A: Marketing is not required to run a successful hearing program at your practice however; the success can be greatly enhanced by doing some basic things. Creating offers for your already present database and sending out information is highly suggested as well as creating a patient information website that will help educate our new online patient population.
3. Q: Do I seek my own relationship with a hearing aid vendor or do I work with a company to that provides these services.
A: Critical to success is an efficient low cost system. By enlisting the help of consultants or companies you can achieve your goals faster and avoid making poor decisions at a time when revenue generation is important. If you know of any practices that have tried to set up a hearing program ask them about their experience.
Concluding Remarks – Ophthalmology Hearing Services
Setting up your hearing health division of your ophthalmology practice.
Given the potential setbacks that ophthalmology practices will face with upcoming cuts to Medicare it makes sense that practices need to survive. In order to survive new lines of revenue generation will need to be developed. Hearing tests and hearing dispensing are conservative and logical approaches to meeting new revenue challenges. Before you consider launching aesthetic medicine divisions be sure to review the benefits of a hearing program at your ophthalmology practice. If the potential benefits work well at your practice starting is not as hard as you might think.