01 I introduced audiology services into my independent practice, Viewpoint Opticians, in May this year.
I opted to employ a full-time audiologist, successfully recruiting for this role in January. Since then our audiologist, John, has joined us full-time. His role is both to be the audiologist in Viewpoint, but to also work with Optix, the practice management software company I own, to provide the insight we need to add audiology functionality to Optix. It is the first time that I have introduced audiology services to Viewpoint and I did so because I genuinely believe that it is the right thing to do for the business. I think it is an important, value-added service to be able to offer customers who come to us for their eye care.
02 Just like other practices, prior to introducing audiology, we had to ask ourselves what the right model to use was. Would we employ an audiologist or go down the partnership model?
Deciding can be a challenge, but, ultimately, we opted to employ an audiologist. There were a number of reasons we made this choice, which included how Optix could also benefit from this role. When opting to employ an audiologist full-time, I had to consider the practice’s financial resources, including set up costs, employing an audiologist and how long it would take me to build up the business and see a return, and if I could afford to make the initial outlay. I took a very personal look at my business. We have not covered our audiologist costs yet, but we will shortly, and I was willing to take that hit short-term to be able to fully control our own destiny by running everything in-house. I can see that this may not be right for everyone.
“We wanted to make sure that everything was correct before we launched and we didn’t rush this stage – we took our time in picking the right equipment”
03 We started seeing our first hearing care patients in May.
Establishing and introducing the service took us around three to four months from start to finish. We employed our audiologist in January and he was responsible for scoping the project and assessing what equipment was needed. I wanted my audiologist to come in, understand my vision and the practice, then go away and do research and produce a shopping list. We wanted to make sure that everything was correct before we launched and we didn’t rush this stage – we took our time in picking the right equipment. We have gone top end and purchased some of the best audiology equipment possible. We have had a soundproof booth put in and the room is cladded in walnut to fit in with the décor of the rest of the practice, but we have still spent less than what an OCT would cost.
In our first month of offering audiology services, we did not do any marketing. We simply began talking to relevant patients as they attended for their sight check. We are just getting to the point where we will start to be a little more overt about our offering. We will let the volume build as we get the quality and processes right. We have an optical patient base, who is suitable for audiology. They are patients who already trust us and like the practice. The interest level, considering we are yet to do any emails or print any literature, has astounded me.
“The interest level, considering we are yet to do any emails or print any literature, has astounded me”
04 Prior to introducing audiology to the practice offering, our audiologist spent time training everyone on the team, from receptionists through to optometrists.
All staff have had their hearing tested so they understand the process from start to finish. We also encouraged them to bring family members, such as grandparents and parents, in to have their hearing checked. While this enabled them to see the positive benefits that having a hearing check can bring, it also helped us soft test our model to make sure that, for example, equipment was in the right place and that the records were being kept correctly.
05 I believe that introducing audiology services into independent practices is profitable if done well.
It brings in people for their hearing care who will perhaps switch to use you for their eye care. However, it works the other way too; a proportion of your patient base will be accessing hearing care services elsewhere if you don’t offer it and they may opt to access their eye care at the other place too. For practice owners considering introducing audiology services, I would advise spending some time on cost analysis to decide what model is right for you; consider working with colleagues in the local area to share an audiologist; and if you decide that the partner route is for you, spend time doing your diligence on the partner, insist on speaking to opticians who they are already working with to get their experiences.
- As told to Emily McCormick.