COVID-19 has given us many things: death, illness, fear, stress, and isolation, among them. It also has given us something very precious in our society. The stay at home orders have given many of us: time. Time to learn. Time to imagine. Time to plan. And time to think.
Audiology has been at a crossroads for a while now. Like many things in the healthcare and retail spaces, the consumer or the patient have a great voice and presence in what products and care they need and desire and how they would like to see that care delivered and valued. To that end, beside the virus, 2020 also should produce the framework for over the counter and direct to consumer hearing aid delivery, as the Food and Drug Administration has until August 2020 to draft proposed regulations.
The direction each of us choose to chart for ourselves, post pandemic, will determine the long-term success and stability of our practices and our profession as a whole. What have each of us learned from this crisis and how will that influence us as we reopen and re-engage? Will we maintain telepractice? Curbside or drop off repairs? Strict infection control? Explore remote or self-assessment equipment? Will we support the same manufacturers, buying entities, and associations in the same manner? Or will everyone go back to the status quo of March 1?
Audiology’s regulatory and legislative status and frameworks at the state and federal levels have been tested by this virus. How will this knowledge affect and influence our engagement moving forward? Change requires engagement. Audiologists who are dissatisfied with their state defined scope of practice need to engage in their state audiology association. When state associations have strong memberships and member support they can better afford a lobbyist to help drive legislative and regulatory modifications. Our telehealth and COVID landscapes would have looked substantially different if we had passage of the Medicare Audiology Access and Services Act (MAASA). Audiologists, again, need to engage in the legislative process in order to increase MAASA’s chances of passage.
I hope this time allowed for some soul searching and for audiologists to re-imagine their practices. The practice of audiology is diverse and extends well beyond a product. Hearing aids are merely a tool in our rehabilitative tool box but not the only tool. We need to find other avenues for attracting patients and generating revenue. We now know that money is money; whether it comes in the form of a bundled hearing aid fitting, a service visit, a central auditory processing evaluation or a tinnitus management tele-visit. It is time to kick it old school and expand the focus of our practices further and re-begin monetizing not just products but also care.
Many opportunities exist that can benefit consumers and patients and have a positive impact on visibility and financial viability of your practice. There are still clinical and rehabilitative holes and needs in every community. What are the holes in your area? How far do consumers or patients have to travel for specialized audiologic and vestibular care? What can YOU offer that is different from the disruptive forces upon us? If we fail, continually, to step into these spaces and niches and meet the consumer’s needs and desires, another provider type or profession will come along to meet the need in our place. This is what has brought us direct to consumer amplification.
The goal, post virus, should be to practice audiology to its fullest evidence and provide the services not available from online, direct to consumer, or big box retailers or via competitors. We should consider expanding our practices to encompass more of our state defined scope of practice. We want to help to create an environment that physicians and healthcare providers want and need to refer to because you fill an unmet, necessary and desired niche in your community and offer items, procedures, services, experiences and value unavailable elsewhere.
As Pericles once said, “Time is the wisest counselor of all”. So, what did we learn with our time? What did we change, create or build? What does YOUR post COVID practice look like? Will your practice look or feel different? Again, TIME will tell.