My column in the Hearing Journal

At 4MyHearingBiz, courtesy of CareCredit, we get questions from hearing care professionals regarding how to run a successful practice. We hear everything from “How can I compete against the ‘Big Box’ retailers like Costco?” to “How can I offer lower-priced hearing aids and still make a profit for my practice?” and more. Experts provide the answers!

ASK AN EXPERT
The goal of our “Ask an Expert” column is to get your questions answered by the people who are in the know—experienced, successful hearing practice owners, practitioners, and others who have first-hand knowledge about the business of hearing care.

TODAY’S EXPERT
Elissa Sorkowitz-Lejeune, HIS BC-HIS
Elissa Sorkowitz-Lejeune is a licensed hearing instrument specialist (HIS), and a partner in the highly successful, family-owned Royal Palm Hearing Aid Center in Florida. She has worked in the hearing care industry for more than 25 years, in all aspects of private practice, and also has hands-on experience in hearing instrument manufacturing. She has worked closely with all the major hearing instrument manufacturers and suppliers over the years, and continues to stay abreast of the latest available hearing aid technology.

TODAY’S QUESTION
As a private practice owner, how can I differentiate myself from the ‘Big Box’ retailers like Costco? Do I need to change both how my practice operates and also how I market the practice in my community?

TODAY’S ANSWER
It’s remarkable how many people go to Costco to buy hearing aids. It’s here to stay, for sure. What you need to understand is that the average user buys at Costco, or ‘Big Box’ one time. I’m not exaggerating when I say that almost on a daily basis someone comes in who has bought at a Big Box store and is ready for the next step. Obviously, hearing deficits do not go away–they continue to deteriorate and get worse. Big Box stores are what I call “a training bra.” Honestly, this is the same way I feel about PSAPs. Each of these is essentially “a training bra” for a longterm problem. Luckily, people get smart and realize they need more support, and more customization in their hearing care. Those people who buy from Costco can still become your clients.

The way to differentiate yourself from Big Box retailers like Costco is to take these people under your wing and make them understand that hearing loss is a longterm health issue that needs ongoing customized care. Explain to them the way that you work from the beginning. You are with them every step of the way in their hearing journey. That means personalization of their particular problem. You are giving them back quality of life with connectivity and personalization.

Answers to your questionsOne thing I can tell you for certain after being in the hearing industry my entire life, is that there is no particular solution that is the same for any patient. I see each of my patients at least every three months for adjustments, cleaning, and tweaking. I explain to them that 95% of the time that when their hearing aids are not working, it’s wax.

Letting your patients know that you are going to take care of their equipment perpetually is key to their success as users. Service is the key and the lifeline of your practice. Don’t let your patients go a day without hearing as much as possible–this commitment to care that is personalized to each individual is how you can win in the age of the “Big Box” retail giants.

Have a question? Please feel free to post a comment in our “Leave a Reply” section at the bottom of this article. We encourage readers to pose one or more questions for one of the experts to answer in the near future.

The “Ask an Expert” column is provided to the 4MyHearingBiz community by CareCredit, The Hearing Review, and various contributors from the hearing healthcare industry.

Image credits: RKG Photography; © Roman Motizov © Ilianamihaleva | Dreamstime.com

Dr. Mel says- Digital Technology

My Grandson, who is now in our practice, pointed out to me the other day that the digital technology age has changed the world more than the invention of the printing press.

Digital technology has certainly changed , for the better, the way hearing enhancement products are manufactured and dispensed. Here is our take on the subject:

In about 1995 two Danish manufacturers, Widex and Oticon introduced digital hearing aids into the United States market with great fanfare and positive media exposure . Suddenly the underserved hearing impaired, technologically deprived patients began demanding this new innovative technology and our industry blossomed.

As a result , sales, prices and patient satisfaction increased and the manufacturers, hearing care professionals and last but not least the patients began benefitting from this new technology. Suddenly , hearing aid prices at the wholesale level increased substantially and prices to the consumers increased as well. The manufacturers became more profitable and began developing even better hearing aids and “economic Darwinism” left many of the smaller manufacturers unable to compete rendering analog hearing aids obsolete.

Unfortunately, ” corporate greed” kicked in about this time and the manufacturers began to buy up retail dispensing offices to exclusively dispense their products. This worked to the detriment of the independent hearing professional because it became very difficult to compete with the suppliers of hearing aids and have access to all of the latest technology so that the end user , the patient, could have access to all of t he latest technology available.

It’s been a challenge, but we at the Royal Palm hearing Aid Centers, have managed to stay autonomous and are one of the only fully independent hearing aid dispensing facilities in the area beholden to no one manufacturer and able to dispense and service all of the products available on the market .

So, with this. Information and coupled with our innovative ” try before you buy no obligation policy” please rest assured that you can avail yourself of our services and benefit from a totally unbiased evaluation of your hearing lifestyle needs in a totally relaxed no pressure environment at one of our convenient modern offices.

What is the best hearing aid

So many of my patients tend to ask me the same question:

“ What is the best hearing aid?”

The answer to that question is very complicated.

The simple answer is; there is no single “best” hearing aid. There is, however, a best choice for you, your lifestyle, and your specific hearing challenges. Every manufacturer— Siemens, Oticon, Resound, Widex, Phonak, and has great technology. Great technology is no longer the challenge.

Finding the right technology for each patient is where we come in. To define which one is right for an individual, we must consider many factors including, for example, ease of use and a patient’s dexterity. Will this person be able to easily change batteries? How much connectivity does that patient want with other devices such as phones or TVs? Most importantly, how much speech does this particular device clarify for that particular patient. Just as every person is different, so every hearing loss is also different. Every brain is different. Every patient’s sensory issues are different.

We match you with the best technology in the best device for your brain and your life. So, as you see, that’s more complicated than you might think. It’s also why we have stayed family owned and independent for 50 years in this industry. We love to get to know our patients and offer them all an improved quality of life.

We are eager to help, so we also offer a try-before-you-buy plan, and financing. We want to make it easy and painless. We work differently, and that’s why our patients keep coming back to us. This is a quality of life decision.

Make an appointment. Come see and, even better, hear for yourself!

Early Audiologists transition into new technology

Back in the sixties, when I went into private practice, most of the hearing aid manufacturers had exclusive dealers around the country to sell and service their products.  For the most part, there were no Audiologists selling hearing instruments at that time, due to our national certifying agency disallowing the selling of hearing aids and labeling it as “unethical.”

We early Audiologists had a very difficult time because the manufacturers were afraid to upset their existing dealer networks and were reluctant to sell us hearing aids. The purpose of this blog is to provide a historical overview of how the dispensing of hearing instruments has evolved over the years to where today people can benefit from wearable amplification that was only dreamed of in the early days of hearing aid dispensing.

In the sixties, Beltone and Zenith companies purveyed their hearing aids through exclusive dealers and probably comprised fifty per cent of the hearing aid sales in the United States. The rest of the market was divided up with various small companies all competing for the remainder of the sales. This was before the all-in-the-ear instruments that were introduced in the early seventies by Starkey, and many of my patients were fit with eyeglass instruments which were very much in vogue at the time.

Widex, Oticon and Siemens were making behind-the-ear hearing aids to compete with the American companies such as Qualitone, Audiotone, Radioear,Dahlberg, Acousticon,Electone and many others .

This was before hearing aid licensing and before the FDA began to monitor the industry.  Gradually, the industry started to change for the better as the manufacturers and dispensers became more proficient and conscientious about the patients they served, Audiologists, trained in the hearing sciences, began to enter the field as teachers and trainers to the traditional dealers, and finally, the instruments and dispensing models of the industry started to change for the betterment of the hearing impaired.

“Economic Darwinism” began to kick in and many of the smaller manufacturers fell by the wayside. About this time, some “big name” companies decided to enter the market place only to discover that the market was not lucrative enough to warrant their attention. Consequently, companies like 3M, Philips, Bosch and several others came in and then left the market.

Starkey initiated the early interest in the in-the-ear hearing aids and the other companies scrambled to catch up. In the early eighties, President Reagan was seen with a small in-the-ear hearing aid, which stimulated sales for several years. The hearing aids and the professionals dispensing them all improved, making it an exciting time in our industry.

(NEXT: digital hearing aids hit the market)

Your Hearing Potential and Demystifying Hearing

Your Hearing Potential and Demystifying Hearing

With so much confusion in advertising in our industry its often difficult to make decisions when searching for the correct amplification. I wanted to write about the way we do things in our practice to take the pressure off and ease your mind before you come in for a visit.
Number one, we want everyone to walk in relaxed and with an open mind. We are NOT sales people. We like to get to know our patients and find out about your lifestyle. We will discuss things such as dexterity, vision and communicative skills. We will test and evaluate your hearing, of course. We will match you with the correct and best technology to specifically meet your needs. 

At our practice, we allow our patients to experience their hearing potential with the latest products from our manufacturers. We represent all of what is referred to as the “big six”: Siemens, Resound, Oticon, Widex, Starkey, and Phonak. Most hearing aid providers aren’t able to do this. We are extremely proud that we have been able to stay independent. We make strides to ensure our pricing is less expensive than the stores owned by the manufactures themselves. 
Hearing is very much like a fingerprint, no one is the same because we all have different brains.  We believe in customization.  Come in so you can believe too.  It’s why we offer “Try before you buy” on all of our products.  You have absolutely nothing to lose.   

Experience your hearing potential.  We can’t wait to meet you!

 
Elissa & The Royal Palm Hearing Aid Centers family
 
Become a part of our family

Untreated hearing loss and neglecting aid leads to depression and dementia, study says

One in every three American adults from 65 to 75 has hearing loss to some extent whereas individuals older than them frequency increases to one in every two people, according to Mayo Clinic.

New study says that hearing less or loss goes under-treated regardless of the evidence that says latest generation of hearing aids may assist in lessening depression and anxiety while its improving mental function.

David Myers, a psychology professor at Hope College in Michigan, stated that, “Anger, frustration, depression and anxiety are all common among people who find themselves hard of hearing. Getting people to use the latest in hearing aid technology can help them regain control of their life and achieve emotional stability and even better cognitive functioning.”

Scientists say that heredity and chronic exposure to loud music are the major factors that contribute to hearing loss and while people commonly are fearful of excessive earwax, it might contribute to their hearing loss and it usually does that temporarily.

A study in 2011 investigated the hearing loss and its relationship to dementia and found that the risk of all-cause dementia heightened with hearing loss severity as social isolation has already been associated with dementia and other cognitive disorders in the past.

Researchers wrote, “Whether hearing loss is a marker for early stage dementia or is actually a modifiable risk factor for dementia deserves further study.”

Previous research also indicated that people with hearing loss who didn’t use hearing aids had been 50% more likely to suffer from sadness and depression compared to the ones who did use them. It was found that hearing aid wearers were more like to participate in social activities and only 20% of the people who might benefit from the treatment actually seek help. People wait an average of 10 years following diagnosis before they start getting hearing aids.

Myers said that lack of awareness about what they are missing in also causing the delays. The newest generation hearing aids, some of which work with the smartphone and hearing loop technology could be of great assistance to the ones who wear hearing loss or become more social and involved.

Loop technology acts like Wi-Fi for hearing aids by transmitting sound signals directly into an aid (or cochlear implant), where it is received by a device called a telecoil. At present, the Hearing Loss Association of America is promoting the hearing loop system to the chambers of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court.

“Many hard of hearing people battle silently with their invisible hearing difficulties, straining to stay connected to the world around them, reluctant to seek help,” said Myers.

Addressing Hearing Loss on the Job Should be a Workplace Wellness Priority, BHI Underscores for Employee Wellbeing Month

WASHINGTON, DC / ACCESSWIRE / June 2, 2015 / Hearing health should be a workplace wellness priority, the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) is advising employers during Employee Wellbeing Month in June, and is sponsoring a free, confidential, online hearing check at www.BetterHearing.org to help workers determine if they need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional. BHI is urging employers to include hearing tests and hearing health as part of their workplace wellness programs.

Hearing health affects many aspects of an individual’s wellbeing and is linked to several health conditions. The earlier hearing loss gets treated the better. Fortunately, hearing aids, as well as other appropriate treatments and workplace accommodations, can often help individuals function optimally on the job and enjoy a better quality of life.

Almost all (95%) of employees who suspect they have a hearing problem but have not sought treatment say they believe their untreated hearing loss impacts them on the job in at least one way, the “Listen Hear!” survey by EPIC Hearing Healthcare found. From asking people to repeat what they have said (61%), to misunderstanding what is being said (42%), to even pretending to hear when they can’t (40%), the burden that comes with leaving hearing loss unaddressed weighs heavily on America’s workers.

Today, about half of U.S. employers offer wellness promotion initiatives, according to the RAND Workplace Wellness Programs Study. By including hearing tests and hearing health information in workplace wellness programs-as well as including hearing aids as an employee benefit-employers encourage workers to treat hearing loss rather than hide it. Not only does this help the worker, but it creates a work environment where employer and employee can team up to ensure that a worker’s hearing difficulty does not interfere with job performance, productivity, safety, quality of life, morale, opportunities, or success in the workplace.

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, where organizations are coming to rely more heavily on maturing workers who have valuable experience and expertise, and at a time when we seem to be seeing an increase in adult hearing loss at younger ages, this employer-employee partnership is critical for bottom-line success. BHI believes that empowering America’s workers with information on hearing health and options for addressing hearing loss, they can become more informed healthcare consumers and more productive, satisfied employees.

5 Sound Reasons for Employers to Promote Hearing Health

(1) Many people with hearing loss are in the workforce. America is experiencing a demographic shift toward a maturing labor force. People are staying in the workforce longer. And research suggests that we’re seeing an increase in adult hearing loss at younger ages, particularly among those in their 20s and 30s. In fact, more than 10 percent of full-time e3 survey.

(2) Treating hearing loss can enhance worker performance. Most hearing aid users in the workforce say it has helped their performance on the job, according to BHI research. What’s more, most people who currently wear hearing aids say it helps their overall ability to communicate effectively in most situations and has had a positive impact on their relationships at work.

(3) Leaving hearing loss unaddressed doesn’t pay. Brushing off hearing loss can limit our ability to communicate effectively and can negatively-and unnecessarily-affect productivity, job performance, and earnings; lead to fatigue and distress; restrict interpersonal interactions; make it difficult to receive and interpret auditory information from computers, machines, and individuals; pose a risk to our ability to hear sounds that signal hazards in the work environment; increase sick leave and disengagement from work; and diminish overall quality of life.

(4) Hearing loss is tied to other health conditions. Hearing loss may signal or exacerbate other important health issues. Research shows that hearing loss is linked to depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, dementia, cognitive decline, moderate chronic kidney disease, sleep apnea, and the risk of falling and hospitalization.

(5) State-of-the-art features make today’s hearing aids better than ever. Today’s hearing aids make it easier to hear sounds and people from all directions and filter out noise. Many sit discreetly and comfortably inside the ear canal and out of sight; and many are wireless, so they can interface easily with other high-tech devices like smartphones, conference-room speaker phones and hearing loops. Some are even waterproof, and others are rechargeable. The bottom line? As many as 91 percent of owners of the newest hearing aids-those purchased in the last year-are satisfied with their hearing aids, and 90 percent of people who purchased their hearing aid within the last four years say they’d recommend a hearing aid to a friend or family member, according to BHI research.

CONTACT:

Better Hearing Institute (BHI)
Media@BetterHearing.org

SOURCE: Better Hearing Institute (BHI)

Listen Technologies Supports Consumer Education on Hearing Aids

Listen Technologies Corporation recently lent their support for the bill HB112, which passed in the Utah State House of Representatives and became effective on May 12, 2015. The bill “modifies the requirements for practicing as an audiologist or as a hearing instrument specialist”; and it “requires a licensed audiologist or a licensed hearing instrument specialist to inform each patient about hearing instruments that work with assistive listening systems when offering to sell the patient a hearing instrument.” Similar measures have passed in New York, Rhode Island, Arizona and Florida.

As a longtime advocate of the right of consumers to know that assistive listening is mandatory in many public venues, Listen Technologies supported the bill as it helps to educate consumers about assistive listening systems at the initial discussion regarding the selection of the hearing aids. This timing makes it optimal for the audiologist/hearing aid dispenser to recommend and order the correct product.

Cory Schaeffer, Listen Technologies vice president of business development, said, “Audiologists and hearing specialists are the most qualified to provide appropriate counseling regarding all technology available in hearing aids. For example, it is important for the patient to understand that a t-coil option is available and how it can interface to the ‘sound system’ within public venues. It needs to be explained to the patient that the t-coil is universal technology when connecting to public venue accommodations including hearing loops, IR and FM systems. This bill makes that counseling a matter of policy.”

Listen Technologies considers hearing loss a public health concern. “The ADA requires public facilities to have assistive listening systems for people with hearing loss,” added Schaeffer. “More work is needed for patients/consumers to be educated on the various options related to public access.”

Most venues put in assistive listening technology per the ADA requirements; however, many who need assistive listening are not aware that technology is in the venue to help them, so often they do not ask. This bill helps audiologists and hearing aid dispensers own the responsibility of educating their patients on how their hearing instruments interface with the equipment that is already in the venue.

Schaeffer noted, “The most common complaint from those with hearing aids is that they work well in quiet environments or in close proximity; however, when they are in a venue it’s extremely challenging to hear. We need audiologists to be actively engaged in educating their patients on all available technology, not just trendy technology, and empowering their patients with the confidence to engage in public activities despite their hearing loss. This bill moves us closer to informing people who require hearing aids or implantable devices to receive additional education so that they can make an informed decision regarding their hearing and the device they select. Hearing aids are expensive, and the patient only has 30 days to return the device. We know that when hearing aid users use the t-coil with assistive listening systems in venues, they typically have a great experience. We simply need to fill the gap that exists between the venue technology and the hearing aid user and this bill is another small step towards filling that gap.” – See more at: http://www.avnetwork.com/latest/0013/listen-technologies-supports-education-of-consumers-on-assistive-listening-technology/95259#sthash.AeWuvZB4.dpuf

Publix stores receiving hearing-aid technology

Publix stores receiving hearing-aid technology

Publix Supermarkets is equipping three Southwest Florida stores — one on Longboat Key and two in Venice — with new technology that will help customers with hearing loss to better navigate its aisles.

After two years of testing, Publix is introducing “hearing loops” into some of its stores. The devices use electromagnetic signals to help those with hearing aids or cochlear implants to better perceive sound.

The Longboat and Venice stores added hearing loops this month.

“If you can imagine having a conversation in a grocery store, you know there’s always ambient noise around. That’s a huge distraction for people with hearing loss,” Publix spokesman Brian West said. “This system actually drowns out that ambient noise so customers can better hear employees when they’re checking out at the pharmacy, at a register or at our customer-service desk.”

The Lakeland-based grocery chain installed hearing loops in four key areas in the stores: pharmacy drop off, pharmacy pick up, the customer-service desk and a check-out register.

“For a customer coming into a store, the process is almost seamless,” West said. “The majority of hearing-aid systems automatically integrates with the system, and we’ve put them in places where we think shoppers will get the most use of out of it.”

Publix has been installing hearing loops in Florida supermarkets for years, West said.

Last year, a Lakewood Ranch resident and local members of the Hearing Loss Association of America and the Florida Coordinating Council for Deaf and Hard of Hearing were able to convince the Florida Supreme Court to install hearing loops in its chambers.

Read More

By Justine Griffin

Published: Monday, March 30, 2015 at 8:46 p.m.

Finding a Niche in Audiology: An Interview with Mel Sorkowitz and Elissa Sorkowitz-Lejeune

In October 1994, The Hearing Review ran a story by editorial director, Marjorie D. Skafte, profiling audiologist Mel Sorkowitz—as well as his peers Jim Curran, John Schuneman, and Otis Whitcomb—who had helped pioneer the role of “dispensing audiologist” in the hearing care industry. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sorkowitz and colleagues went beyond simply providing audiology exams; they began fitting patients for hearing aids and selling the devices directly to patients—rather than referring them to hearing instrument specialists as was the standard accepted protocol of the time. This development led to a years-long debate with the American Speech Language Hearing Assn (ASHA) and others regarding the role of the audiologist in dispensing. During this time, Sorkowitz decided to refocus his career on hearing instrument manufacturing.

Sorkowitz

In June 1978, after consulting the US Attorney’s office in Washington and reexamining its Code of Ethics, the ASHA Executive Board made a change that permitted audiologists to engage in the retail sale of hearing aids. Mel Sorkowitz eventually returned to the world of private practice, when he and his wife, Sondra, opened their Royal Palm Hearing Aid Center in Florida. Several years later, their daughter Elissa became a licensed Hearing Instrument Specialist (HIS), and joined Mel and Sondra as a partner in the business. In December 2014, HR interviewed Mel and Elissa to get their current perspectives on all things hearing.

HR: How do you think the challenges you faced as one of the early dispensing audiologists might have changed audiology?

Mel Sorkowitz

Mel: Can any audiologist today imagine practicing audiology without dispensing hearing aids? I think our early challenges around dispensing hearing aids have allowed audiologists to offer more to the patient. To give you an idea of how much things have changed, when I finished my graduate work at the University of Wisconsin in 1966, there really was no such thing as a “practicing audiologist,” and certainly not a dispensing audiologist in private practice. At that time, the career choices for audiologists were either to pursue speech pathology, teach, or conduct research.

I ended up becoming sort of an itinerant audiologist, working for various ENTs in the Philadelphia area on a part-time basis. I was earning about $5 per hour, if you can believe that! Between my various jobs, and through discussions with colleagues, I got the idea to start dispensing hearing aids—to essentially function as what we now call a dispensing audiologist. That seemed to make more sense than to refer patients to a hearing aid dealer to get their hearing aid.

This approach worked well, and I ended up opening 7 dispensing audiology offices around the Philadelphia area over a period of 5-6 years. Of course, once the doctors (ENTs) saw the success of this business model, they started using their own dispensing audiologists within their own office setting. They stopped referring their patients to me, and instead just referred their patients to the audiologist down the hall.

That’s when I went into manufacturing hearing aids. I also wanted to provide other audiologists with business training, so I started offering 2- or 3-day training conferences in Colorado, providing sessions on the business side of audiology.

HR: Despite your early challenges, you continue to work in the field as a successful dispensing audiologist. Would you say that today the audiologist’s role has developed in positive directions?

Mel: Certainly the field of audiology has become more recognized by the public, and career opportunities are greater. In fact, some publications have cited audiology as a top-10 career.

HR: Elissa, can you comment on how your father’s experiences and professional advice influenced your career decision?

Elissa: My father was a pioneer in this industry, and being a pioneer in a relatively new industry also took its toll on our family. Don’t get me wrong—we have had an amazing life! My sister and I were raised in hearing aid offices and manufacturing plants. My first job was on an assembly line at a hearing aid manufacturing plant. I have always loved the manufacturing side of the hearing care industry. I never liked school, but I have always loved hearing aids, technology, and taking care of people. All of this influenced my decision to become a hearing instrument specialist.

HR: Elissa, do you have an interest in expanding your own role from Hearing Aid Specialist to Audiologist? Or, since each of these roles is important to the industry, how can audiologists and hearing instrument specialists work together more closely?

In our private practice, we have created a business model where patients sometimes want to see the audiologist, and that works well. Then we hearing instrument specialists will do the hearing instrument fitting and follow up. We have no problem moving between the appropriate roles and supporting each other. There is great synergy between us, and we have a lot of fun.

I have no desire to go back to school and study audiology, but I strive to learn as much as I can about the amazing technology that’s out there so I can serve the hearing-impaired population. I think a hearing-impaired patient needs to trust you and your expertise, and also know that you will advocate for what is best for them. They see results with the highly personalized care we provide, so they trust us and keep coming back.

I love the hearing care industry from a holistic perspective, and I’ve always approached my job as a hearing care professional by looking at the whole person to customize and personalize the care I provide.

HR: What commonalities do the Audiologist and HIS professions share and how do they complement each other?

Mel: As an audiologist, I have great respect for the technological knowledge that Elissa brings to the field as a hearing instrument specialist. Her expertise is indispensable to me, and her knowledge is key to our business. Audiologists sometimes refer to hearing instrument specialists as their “audiology assistants,” rather than referring to them as “colleagues.” The fact is, these two professions really do complement each other, and I think that audiologists and hearing instrument specialists need to work together with mutual respect.

HR: Do you think the different training experiences that audiologists receive when they earn their doctoral-level designations, (ie, CCC, AuD, PhD) can complement each other for better efficiency?

Mel: It’s all a matter of perception. I obtained my AuD degree when I was 64 years old, and frankly, I still have a hard time referring to myself as “doctor.” But perhaps that’s just me. Most of our patients would rather see my daughter the hearing instrument specialist. She is much prettier and nicer, and certainly more technologically proficient than I am.

Young people who are earning their doctoral designations in audiology really need to think carefully about what they want to do in the audiology field. They need to consider their direction, and whether they want to become an employee of one of the “Big Box” retailers. This is a similar direction to the one pharmacy is headed in, whereby you don’t see many privately owned pharmacies anymore. Pharmacists are becoming employees of the big pharmacy retailers like CVS and Walgreens.

HR: Do you think now is a good or bad time to enter the field of audiology? Where do you think the greatest opportunities are for audiologists today?

Mel: What I see a lot of the young people doing as they obtain their audiology degrees is going to work in ENT offices or big box stores. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any audiology degree programs that teach how the business of hearing aid dispensing is done. For example, a graduate coming out of dental school has had advanced coursework in practice management, and knows how to run a business. If an audiology graduate’s goals are more clinical, certainly the field of vestibular and clinical diagnostic audiology is interesting and wide open. However, when it comes to private practice, hearing aid dispensing is the financial engine that runs the practice. We have amazing opportunities right now. But unless the audiologist becomes proficient in business and develops a new professional identity in the private sector, it is my belief that the profession of audiology is in danger of going the same way as pharmacy [with most pharmacists going to work for chains]. I would hate to see this happen.

HR: Do you see stronger partnerships between physicians, audiologists, and hearing instrument specialists as a positive development in the hearing care field?

Mel: I’m not terribly optimistic about partnering with physicians, I’m afraid, due to my past experiences. For 10 years I had 7 private-practice dispensing offices in Philadelphia, and most of the otolaryngologists in the area referred their sensorineural hearing-impaired patients to me. When the physicians saw how successful I was in this niche, they began to dispense hearing aids themselves. That’s one of the reasons why I gave up my offices, and purchased the Vicon manufacturing facility in Colorado Springs in 1978—so that I could sell hearing aids to the otolaryngologists who had started dispensing hearing aids.

I think those of us in private practice in the hearing care industry ought to develop our own distinct professional identity. It doesn’t matter what we call ourselves, as long as we’re serving our communities ethically and efficiently.

HR: When Mel started dispensing hearing aids, there were a lot of single-line dispensing offices. Then the trend moved to multi-line independent offices. Today, there is a trend back toward manufacturer- or network-owned single-line (or limited lines) offices. What impact do you see in these trends on a business such as your own?

Elissa: I think our industry needs a makeover! I would advise anyone going into private practice without a manufacturer behind you to go multi-line and carry the Big Six. It’s a lot of work and requires a lot of training, but it pays off, because that way you can meet the needs of a wide range of patients. Let’s face it, in some ways the manufacturers are our competition. They know everything about our practices. We need to find ways to level the competitive field, the pricing, and keep us relevant. They need distribution as much as we need to sell hearing aids, and the manufacturer has now gained the longer dollar and more control.

Mel: We love the fact that, by being multi-line, we are not beholden to one manufacturer, and we have access to all of the best technology on the market. It is really not sensible to restrict to one manufacturer and its technology when there is such unbelievable technology on the market to cover all hearing impairments.

HR: The topic of competition has been covered in many sessions at industry conferences, as the hearing care industry becomes a more competitive marketplace. How do you feel about the competition posed by the so-called “Big Box” hearing aid providers, PSAPs, and the Internet?

Elissa: I think if we are doing our jobs, we shouldn’t worry so much about this. I think the Big Box retailers of the world will force the strong to survive and emerge. The average user buys at Costco once. Our patients come back over and over, and send their friends. This is because we have become a resource in this community for so many things, not just for hearing aids. However, it should be acknowledged that we have been in practice in Boca Raton, Fla, for 30 years.

HR: Are there other sources of competition for you in the industry or in your local area? As an audiology business owner, what can you do to stay ahead of the competition, and what might be the best direction for a private business owner like you to take for sustained growth?

Mel: We have been successful through the years by always being truthful in our advertising. We see a lot of antiquated advertising done in our area by hearing aid professionals that is bordering on unethical. Consumers in our area seem to be catching on and responding to more truthful and ethical advertising. The most difficult part of our business is getting people in the door. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to resort to chicanery to bring people into our office. We have established our brand and credibility.

Elissa: The technology in the hearing care field has advanced, and what is available to patients today is amazing. Our audiology businesses need to offer that technology and be knowledgeable about it. We need to make our offices more interactive and comprehensive so that people coming in get a holistic experience.

Mel: We need to be a “one-stop resource” and offer patients everything they need in hearing care—all in one place.

Elissa:  We have to offer expertise and quality care. I’ve worked on the manufacturing side of the hearing care industry, and on the hearing aid dispensing side, and my dad is the best audiologist I’ve ever seen. That’s why he’s been so successful. It’s one of the primary reasons our business has succeeded for 30 years.

HR: What advice do you have for family-owned hearing care business owners? Are there useful ground rules you have that help you effectively maintain a business and your close personal relationships?

Elissa: We really try to leave everything at the office and I would say we’re pretty good about that, most of the time. We have our moments, but it’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t change a thing. My dad and I have always talked business at 6 am for all of our years together. It’s one of the things I cherish most. The other side of that is sometimes I have to tell both of my parents to shut it off. My mom runs the financial or business side of our business, which is key. I give kudos to my mom for her business education background, which is instrumental to the success of our business. She is also a hearing instrument specialist, so she gets it, and that makes things easier!

The Sorkowitz family has recently moved one of their two offices to a much larger facility, and they have found that the additional space further improves their professional-personal relations. When asked if her two adult children will enter the business to continue the family’s legacy in the hearing care field, Elissa reported that one is currently getting licensed to enter the hearing care profession, while the other is devoted to working in the entertainment field. Elissa joked that the only way her second child would work in hearing care would be if a media network decided to produce a reality show about the Sorkowitz family and their audiology business. It would be a show worth watching! 

About the author: Christa Nuber is associate editor of The Hearing Review. Her email is cnuber@allied360.com.

– See more at: http://www.hearingreview.com/2015/02/finding-successful-niche-audiology-interview-mel-sorkowitz-elissa-sorkowitz-lejeune/#sthash.C50yTmvL.dpuf

 

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