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)

Three Distinguished Alumni will be Honored at Homecoming.

Three Distinguished Alumni will be Honored at Homecoming. 

The West Liberty University alumni association will add the names of three distinguished alumni, Jack Adams ’63, Joan Campbell ’62 and Dr. Melvin Sorkowitz ’62, to its Wall of Honor, at an induction ceremony breakfast, 9:30 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 13 in the R. Emmett Boyle Conference Center. The ceremony is part of the Hilltopper Homecoming Weekend 2012.

“The Wall of Honor serves as a reminder and inspiration to our students and to the entire campus community. It offers a public display that is evidence of how far a West Liberty graduate can go in science, education, business, the arts, public service and so many other fields of endeavor. We congratulate our 2012 honorees,” said Shane Stack ‘10, alumni director.

Adams was born in Washington, Pa. and is now a resident of McMurray, Pa. After graduating from West Liberty in 1963 with a bachelor’s of science degree in marketing, he began his career in business with Retail Credit Co. (Equifax). In 1967, Adams then embarked on a 30-year career with Exxon Company, USA, in marketing, real estate, and engineering.Jack Adams '63

Over the course of 23 years, he held several positions in Exxon’s marketing division, including leasing of retail properties, fuel sales and automotive products. In 1989, he moved to Exxon real estate and engineering and was responsible for Exxon real estate and fuel distribution in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Northern Delaware. Adams was also responsible for environmental issues and emergency response in these regions.

Retiring from Exxon in 1996, Adams became president of SJR’s Team Supreme, Inc., in Phoenixville/Valley Forge, Pa., which became a nationally recognized leader in Exxon convenience store marketing. After 13 years, he retired in 2009.

Among his list of accomplishments, Adams is a 32nd degree Mason and member of the Scottish Rite of Pittsburgh and Lodge 623, Washington, Pa. The organization recently recognized him for 25 years of service. Also a Vietnam War veteran, Adams proudly served for five years as sergeant and squad leader with the U.S. Army Reserves 630th Trans. Co., Washington, Pa. The company was one of five activated during the war and he spent 1968-1969, in Phu Bai, running convoys to Hue and the DMZ. While at West Liberty, Adams was a founding brother of the Delta Omega chapter of Delta Sigma Pi International Business Fraternity. The organization originated sales of school flags, shirts, etc. and was so profitable it led the school in merchandise sales, which resulted in the sales effort moving to the bookstore.

Adams is a member of the Gary E. West College of Business Advisory Board, chairman of the alumni campaign for the Gary E. West College of Business, former board member of the WLU Alumni Association and current treasurer for the Pittsburgh Chapter of the WLU Alumni Association.

Campbell was born in Wheeling and is a resident of Clearview. She graduated from Warwood High School as valedictorian and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at West Liberty, where she once again was selected as valedictorian. She then earned a master’s degree at West Virginia University.Joan Campbell '62

She began her career as an executive secretary with Wheeling Steel Corporation, but her real love was teaching at the elementary level. She went on to have an outstanding career of 30 years as an educator in Ohio County Schools. In 1984, Campbell was named the Ohio County Teacher of the Year. She was known for her annual theatrical/musical productions, which she wrote and directed at Warwood Grade School.

During her tenure as First Lady of West Liberty, from 1984-1995, she initiated a number of college-wide programs including: campus beautification projects, a May-Morning breakfast for graduating females, an annual holiday party for campus sororities, recognition dinners for student groups such as theater, music, athletics and others. She also served as advisor to her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta.

Campbell also hosted holiday galas for the alumni association, the faculty, the WLSC Foundation Board of Directors and the West Liberty advisory board. She was active in promoting and assisting the Elderhostel Program, formerly hosted by West Liberty.

Campbell continues to be involved with the University as a lifetime member of the Alumni Association, a continuous member of the President’s Circle and a member of the Nathan Shotwell Society. She is active in the Wheeling community as a member of the Thursday Music Club and King’s Daughters.

She is married to Dr. Clyde D. Campbell, president emeritus of West Liberty, and she is the mother of Leslie A. Campbell, special education teacher for Ohio County Schools. She has three grandchildren: Emily, Hannah and Colby.

Dr. Sorkowitz was born in Akron, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor’s of Arts degree at West Liberty and went on to earn a master’s degree in audiology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis., where he was a vocational rehabilitation scholarship recipient. He also attended Louisiana State University and Temple University, earning a doctoral degree in audiology and completing his studies in 2003.Mel Sorkowitz '62

After graduation, he became the director and originator of the audiology program at the Albert Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia. Because audiology was a relatively young profession, he became an important resource for the ear, nose, throat specialists in the region.

Sorkowitz and his wife, Sondra, a business professional, decided that the hearing aid profession needed a new direction. They incorporated Audiological Consultants, Inc. of Pennsylvania in 1969 and grew their business to include seven privately owned offices serving the hearing impaired in the Greater Philadelphia area.

In 1972, Sorkowitz made a movie, “Hearing Aids, How to Fit Them,” which won an award that year for the most important contribution for medicine and surgery through the field of cinematography. Sorkowitz went on to become a national presenter and guest lecturer for hearing aid manufacturers meetings and otolaryngologists conventions. The hearing aid field was changing rapidly. Audiologists and otologists could now dispense hearing aids where prior to 1978, it was considered unethical to do so.

As the hearing aid field grew, Sorkowitz was involved in the growth and from 1978 to 1984, Sorkowitz and his wife owned and operated manufacturing facilities in both Colorado Springs, Co. and Los Angeles, Calif.

In 1984, the Sorkowitz family, which includes two daughters Elissa and Adina, moved to Boca Raton, Fla., and opened two professional audiology/hearing aid offices. In 2003, he was recognized by the Audiology Foundation of America and received the Professional Leadership Award in recognition of his “perseverance and strength as a pioneer in hearing aid dispensing by audiologists, as well as continued, joyful dedication to leading the audiology profession to new horizons.”