This week’s episode of the Future Ear Radio podcast features Meagan Lewis, Director of Audiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health, and Jason Mayer, VP Commercial Sales at Phonak. The topic of this week’s conversation is a deeper exploration of the implementation and usage of remote audiological services. Meagan shares her perspective as a practicing audiologist, while Jason provides the vantage from within one of the five major hearing aid manufacturers (parent company Sonova).
Our conversation kicks off with Meagan sharing her experience across the past four months, as social distancing has forced her to move many of her patient interactions to a remote setting. Like so many other doctors, she’s had to adapt quickly to adopting telehealth services, which has had its growing pains. As Jason points out, doctors are being hit with 10 years of innovation in the span of a few months.
We then delve into the different types of remote services that Meagan is experimenting with and how they factor into her overall business model. For starters, professionals can be embedding hearing screeners (like Phonak’s) on their website to allow prospective patients to screen for hearing loss in the comfort of their own home. As we discuss, this is less of a replacement for a proper in-clinic hearing test, and more of a baseline test to help usher people in the funnel toward the professional.
In regards to actually meeting with patients remotely, professionals who are adopting remote services are not only providing a last resort today, but they’re creating optionality for the patient in the days beyond our current social distancing norms. This aligns with the macro transition that professionals are experiencing as their business models become increasingly more service-oriented. We will likely look back at 2020 as the moment when the services shift really began to occur, largely brought forward by the rapid adoption and innovation that many types of doctors are having to undergo.
When thinking about this shift toward services, it’s important to note that this pandemic is transpiring in 2020, when nearly 80% of American adults own a smartphone. A time that is 6 years after the first made-for-iphone hearing aid, which has allowed for Bluetooth hearing aids to proliferate. As a byproduct of this proliferation, hearing aid manufacturers have been motivated by each other to build out increasingly sophisticated companion apps that go along with the hearing aids (i.e. MyPhonak), as a point of differentation.
As a result, there’s been sufficient time for the patient population to outfit themselves with the smartphones, Bluetooth hearing aids, and companion apps needed to remotely interface with the professionals.
This ultimately yields way to entirely new business models. One of the key questions we discuss throughout this conversation is, “how does one properly bill for these remote interactions?” This is where I think we as an industry are going to need to get creative and figure out how best to build a service model that includes premium-tier service options, such as live remote support. Being able to connect to a patient in real-time and provide in-situation adjustments is an incredibly compelling service for some patients, and therefore I think it should be billed as such.
As these type of remote services continue to evolve, reach parity with traditional methods of interaction, and ultimately proliferate among the patient & the professional community, we should expect this element of audiology to grow in demand. I fully expect that we’ll see savvy hearing professionals figure out how to best leverage these new tools to their advantage and ultimately thrive because of it.
-Thanks for Reading-