For decades, hearing professionals have been relegated to the status of “suppliers” in the eyes of Medicare. This is despite the advanced education and clinical focus of hearing professionals. In addition, other non-physician healthcare providers are classified as “practitioners” rather than “suppliers.” Unfortunately, this “supplier” status affects how consumers and patients view hearing professionals and their services. A new movement, however, calls for the reclassification of hearing professionals. The shift that would come with this change would benefit both hearing professionals and patients.
Because hearing professionals are classified as “suppliers,” their professional services are pigeonholed into a category known as “other diagnostic services.” This limits hearing professionals to Medicare coverage of diagnostic services only, despite the broad scope of practice including treatment and rehabilitative services.
The key to shifting the public perception of hearing professionals is for consumers and patients to better understand the breadth and value of the services provided. The general public needs to view hearing professionals as more than hearing aid sellers. This is similar to the role ophthalmologists play in eye care. Ophthalmologists specialize in eye care, conditions, and treatment, but they are not viewed as glasses sellers.
Currently, there is a movement to reclassify audiologists as “practitioners,” just as other non-physician providers are. This change is proposed in the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act (MAASA). If the act passes, it will improve outcomes for beneficiaries by allowing direct access to audiology services and streamlining Medicare coverage policies so audiologists can provide the full range of Medicare-covered diagnostic and treatment services that correspond to their scope of practice.
Furthermore, the reclassification of hearing professionals as “practitioners” would allow them to permanently furnish services through telehealth. This is currently only partially permitted during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency.
In addition to supporting MAASA, hearing professionals can help to change the narrative surrounding the profession. Here are a few ways you can begin doing so now:
Show patients that you can provide services outside of selling hearing aids. This may include screening for comorbid conditions related to hearing loss, closely and regularly monitoring your patients’ statuses, and utilizing an up-to-date, evidence-based approach to diagnostic assessment.
- Specialized Services
Again, demonstrate that you offer more than hearing aids. This can include tinnitus treatment and coping strategies, hearing loss prevention (including custom hearing protection), hearing tests, earwax removal, and evaluation and treatment for dizziness and balance issues.
- Quick & Efficient Experience
Telehealth appointments became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic as providers searched for ways to offer their services without bringing patients into the office and risking the spread of the virus. Even as the pandemic wanes, some patients prefer telehealth appointments because they eliminate the need for a commute to and from the office. For in-office appointments, it is equally important to offer a quick and efficient experience. Patients value their time (just as you value yours).
- In-Office Technology
Use updated in-office technology for patient communication and follow-up. This can make the entire experience with your office—from their first contact to their appointment to their follow-up—smooth and streamlined.
With each patient, you have the opportunity to begin shifting the narrative around hearing professionals. For more information about how this change can benefit the industry and your practice, we invite you to contact us at AudiologyPlus today.