Practice Differentiation: Seven Areas of Best Practice

The most important asset you have as a business owner/administrator is the people that work for you and the brand that you create to support your patients. The question we’re asked most often as practice consultants is “How can we set our practice apart from our competition and protect ourselves from industry disruptors?”

Below are the seven key areas we recommend practice leaders focus on to differentiate themselves and ultimately, grow their businesses:

1. Industry

Get involved with our industry at a broader level, either with national organizations, local boards, or philanthropic events in your community. As we all know, a lot is happening regarding policies and regulations on Medicare coverage and over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid options. Lobbying can help amplify our voices as industry experts. Stay up to date with the latest research and clinical trials or join an advisory council (like the Consult Audiology Advisory Council) to provide guidance on industry trends and best practices. Getting involved on a higher level shows that your commitment to the field goes beyond selling hearing aids. 

2. Community

It’s important to create a brand that represents who you are and what you believe in. Does your practice’s presence in the community reflect your mission and values? Do you even really have a presence in your community? Whether in-person or virtual, community events such as health fairs, lunch and learns, and free hearing screening events should be part of your overall marketing strategy. Make sure your events are exciting to the target audience and that they end with a clear call to action! Finally, educate physicians and community groups (urgent care centers, walk-in clinics, senior living facilities, etc.) about the comorbidities associated with hearing loss and the importance of hearing on one’s overall wellness.

3. Team Culture

Foster a workplace culture that’s patient-centric and built on trust. Do you have the right people on your team? Do they work efficiently together as a team? Have you communicated your mission to them? Can they articulate that mission to patients? Champion open communication and welcome feedback and input from your staff. Regular staff meetings are crucial opportunities for team building, goal-setting, and instilling a growth mindset in your employees. Hold a daily “huddle” with your staff to set and maintain clear expectations each day. Also, be sure to provide professional growth opportunities with ongoing job description and performance reviews.

4. Patients

Put yourself in your patients’ shoes and trace the steps of their typical journey. Be aware of your digital presence and look at your website from a visitor’s perspective. Is it easy for them to find your contact information or to book an appointment? Does it include positive patient reviews and testimonials that convey your passion and expertise? Stay top of mind with patients by engaging with them on social media and sending regular communications such as birthday messages, newsletters, and appointment reminders. Consider utilizing innovative tools to stay in touch with patients like Consult’s exclusive new video marketing platform. Hosting educational seminars about common challenges like hearing aid Bluetooth connectivity is another great way to empower your patients and improve hearing aid outcomes. Patients want to be informed and to feel like their healthcare providers genuinely care about them!

5. In-Office

Try walking into your office as if you’ve never been there before. Examine the layout of your reception and waiting area as well as your exam room(s). What message does each space send to visitors? Are they all clean and without clutter? Is the physical space built in a way that allows room for growth? Don’t forget that your front office person is often a patient’s first impression of the practice. Does he/she positively represent your brand and support your mission? Examine the flow from arrival to the appointment to check out as well. Consider displaying assistive technology such as captioned telephones or playing educational waiting room videos that show statistics about hearing loss and/or share a patient’s journey.

6. In Appointments

You should also try walking through the flow of each appointment type, considering every element of the process. Do patients know what the expectations are in advance? Are your providers educating patients and giving their professional recommendations efficiently and concisely without pre-judgment? Engage in dialogue with your providers and hold them accountable for consistency in this process. Discuss outcome notes and work as a team to include new or different measures or specialized testing if appropriate. And continue to re-visit this process for ongoing practice growth. The goal here is to continue to improve how you deliver diagnosis and treatment messages to establish greater trust with patients so that more of them accept your help.

7. Follow-up Care

Follow-up and follow-through can be challenging in any field, but there are simple ways to add this to your processes to present yourself as an industry leader. Do you have a hearing loss prevention program or a referral plan? Do you have walk-in hours so that patients have the convenience of returning whenever they’re having a problem? Set up your email automation software to distribute patient satisfaction surveys following appointments. Send patients home with educational brochures that will help foster an ongoing relationship. Take time to make follow-up phone calls, regardless of whether the patient was ready to move forward and purchase hearing aids or not. All patients, even those who do not have an aidable hearing loss, should receive ongoing education and communication from your practice. This upholds your commitment to providing quality hearing healthcare and helping as many people as possible. Establishing realistic expectations regarding follow-up is also key. Let patients know that the average person upgrades their hearing aids every 3.7 years and that they should expect to return at the three-year mark for you to re-evaluate their hearing loss and ensure their devices are still functioning properly.

These areas are a great place to start thinking about how you can differentiate your practice. Don’t try to revamp your processes all at once. Instead, tackle a few of the above suggestions at a time. And remember that our Account Managers can help—this is exactly what we do every day for practices all across the country.

Reach out today to get started!

About the Author

Dr. Heather Carter, AuD., FAAA, is an Account Manager for the Northeast Region and brings a unique perspective to Consult YHN as a clinical audiologist with over 20 years of experience. She received both her master’s and doctoral degrees in Audiology from Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts college for the Deaf in the U.S. Through her graduate studies and clinical work, Dr. Carter has gained the expertise to help patients with all levels of hearing loss improve their communication skills. By providing practice development support and bridging the clinical aspects of hearing healthcare with the necessary business skills as a Consult YHN Account Manager, she helps her clients remain viable and relevant. Dr. Carter has two CODA children who are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and recently enjoyed a trip to her alma mater where they all were able to use their fluency in ASL to communicate on campus!

About the Author

Dr. Hannah Millstine joined Consult YHN in 2021 and is an Account Manager serving the East region. She received her doctoral degree in Audiology from Northeastern University and spent two years working as a clinical audiologist prior to joining Consult. Hannah resides in Maine and enjoys hiking and exploring New England in her free time.

10 Tips for Delivering Effective Year-End Employee Performance Reviews

It’s that time of year again—time to think about the future of your business, set key objectives for the upcoming year, and conduct your annual employee performance evaluations.

For many employees, performance reviews are one of the most nerve-wracking work conversations they’ll have all year. In fact, 22 percent of office workers say performance reviews have made them cry at least once. And they can be equally uncomfortable for managers who are tasked with having to stand in judgment of their direct reports.

But the benefits of performance appraisals outweigh the negatives. For businesses, those include: 

  • Increased employee engagement and job satisfaction
  • Identifying training needs
  • Uncover and resolve workplace issues/employee grievances
  • Improved performance and morale
  • Fair assessments of raises and/or bonuses
  • Identifying candidates for promotions

You see, annual reviews serve several important purposes. First and foremost, they’re an opportunity to build better, stronger relationships with the members of your team.

So here are several strategies to help make your year-end performance reviews less daunting and more productive:

1. Set expectations early.

Every member of your staff should know exactly what to expect walking into their annual review, especially how their performance is going to be evaluated. Have them complete a self-evaluation a few weeks ahead of your meeting or at least instruct them to make note of accomplishments they’re especially proud of from the past year. In addition, send employees a copy of their evaluation form at least an hour before your face-to-face meeting so that they have a chance to review and process your feedback in advance rather than reacting to it on the spot.

2. Prepare! Prepare! Prepare!

Before meeting with staff, take the time to go over any notes you’ve made about their performance over the past year—that time they missed a deadline, stayed late to help with paperwork, took the lead on a project, handled a difficult patient with aplomb, etc. Prepare questions and try to anticipate issues/concerns that could arise. Solicit feedback from colleagues they work closely with. Review their job descriptions to ensure it still accurately reflect their duties. Finally, make sure you set aside adequate and equal time to meet with each employee (at least an hour) and find a private space where you won’t be interrupted.

3. Provide positive feedback first.

It’s not a bad idea to ease anxieties and set a positive tone for the rest of the discussion by going over the employee’s accomplishments and strengths first. Emphasize what you value about him/her as a person—the wonderful traits and talents he/she brings to the table. Your staff can’t play to and hone their strengths if they don’t know what they are. The goal is to show your employees their hard work is noticed and that you’re grateful to have them on your team. Plus, positive affirmation tends to be very effective in motivating good performers.

4. Coach constructively.

Whether positive or negative, consider framing feedback following a “stop, start, continue” approach: What are they doing now that’s not working? What are they not doing that they should start? What are they currently doing that’s effective and thus, should continue? On the other hand, if there’s someone on your team who’s falling short of expectations, you’re not doing this person—or your company—any favors by sugarcoating it. Be direct with poor performers. Explain exactly what requirements are not being met, the steps necessary for improvement, and the repercussions if he/she does not improve.

5. Be specific and objective.

Whenever possible, use facts, data, and examples to support your assessment of an employee’s job performance. You also want to avoid making vague statements when offering praise and advice. For example, instead of saying “You should be more proactive” say, “You need to take more initiative in making follow-up calls to patients.” Or, instead of simply telling an employee that he/she is “resourceful,” provide a specific example when he/she was actually resourceful.

6. Focus on the future.

Dwelling too much on an employee’s past performance is unproductive. They can’t change the past, but they can control their future. In light of the pandemic, now more than ever, people want (and need) to see a path forward. So, help them connect the dots from where they are to where they want to go. Show that you care about their professional development by discussing available training opportunities and asking them about their career goals. Understanding your employees’ personal ambitions will help you accurately assess their work and how you can best support their advancement.

7. Set and realign goals.

Create SMART goals that build off their goals from the previous year. In other words, keep moving the goalpost. How else are they going to unlock their full potential? Encourage big-picture thinking and promote a growth mindset by tying what your employees do each day to your organization’s mission and values. The more they understand how they contribute to the company’s success, the more invested they’ll be. And don’t forget to mention the company’s priorities for the upcoming year as well as any major changes or projects that might affect staff.

8. Stop talking and listen.

Performance reviews should always be a two-way conversation. The last thing you want is for your employees to feel like they’re on trial. Give them a chance to discuss any challenges or conflicts they’re experiencing without becoming defensive. Your staff should feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly about issues affecting their performance. Be especially compassionate about issues that are beyond the employee’s control and those related to work-life balance.

9. Ask for feedback and suggestions.

Your employees see things that you don’t. They might even understand certain aspects of their job better than you. So why not show that you value their opinions and welcome their suggestions on operational improvements? While you’re at it, ask for feedback on your performance as a manager (i.e., “What can I do as a manager to help you be more successful?”). Allowing staff members to have a voice and letting them feel heard fosters trust, ultimately leading to greater engagement.

10. Keep the conversation going.

Hopefully, you’re having regular conversations with your staff about job performance. If not during weekly or monthly one-on-ones, then at least quarterly or bi-annually. No employee should have to wait an entire year to find out how they’re doing and what they can do to be better. Before concluding the meeting, outline next steps, and set a date to regroup to discuss the employee’s progress towards his/her goals.

When properly planned and executed, annual performance reviews can be extremely rewarding for employees and employers alike. If you have any questions about how to handle year-end reviews or low-performing staff members, Consult can help.

Take advantage of our industry-leading human resources support!

About the Author

Jason DiOttavio joined Consult as a Corporate Recruiter in 2011. Previously, he worked as an agency recruiter for a staffing firm specializing in IT/Administrative roles including such large companies as Dietz & Watson. When not working, Jason enjoys spending time with his wife and two young daughters. He’s also obsessed with cooking shows and finding new ice cream and donut shops.

Patient Trust: Why It’s Important and Five Ways to Build It

According to the FBI, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some type of financial scam or confidence scheme every year. If that’s not enough cause for concern, they’re being inundated by industry disrupters—managed care, discount plans, big boxes, and OTC (Bose and Apple)—after spending more than a year in isolation, fearing for their health as a result of the pandemic.

That’s why it’s never been more important for practices to establish credibility and build trust with patients.

Without the reputation, name recognition, and marketing budget of a major tech company like Bose or Apple, this is a practice’s best defense against growing competition, patient skepticism, and the lingering stigma against hearing aids. Because while we all know how incredible today’s hearing aids are and the profound difference they can make in the lives of those who need them, convincing patients of this is perhaps your greatest challenge.

So, what can you do to cut through all the noise and earn your patients’ confidence and effectively deliver life-changing hearing healthcare?

#1. Make a good first impression.

Because most patients are finding your practice online, that’s where you really need to shine. To establish yourself as the local hearing health expert, engage existing patients, and entice prospects, it’s vital that you have…

A) A well-designed, user-friendly website that not only highlights your expertise and credentials but also serves as a resource for people seeking hearing health information. Not sure if your site is up to par? Let our in-house marketing experts conduct a website assessment!

B) An excellent online reputation. Add Vidscrips and video testimonials to your website and Healthy Hearing Premier Profile flex space and make sure you have plenty of positive reviews on Google and Facebook.

#2. Be consistent.

Your brand image and messaging need to be consistent from your website to your doorstep, and with every interaction a patient has with one of your staff members. If you have multiple locations, each office should follow the same scripting and best practices in addition to providing the same quality of care. The only way to achieve this kind of uniformity is through regular, ongoing staff meetings and professional development. The Consult Development Programs are designed to ensure everyone in the practice is working together as a team to maintain a positive brand image, provide superior customer service, and support practice growth. Also, make sure that your hours, services, and other practice information is consistent across all of your marketing assets and channels. Even a seemingly minor inconsistency can make a potential patient think twice about choosing your practice.

#3. Be transparent.

Ideally, patients should already know who you are and what to expect before they ever step foot in your office. Does your Front Office Professional know how to handle price shoppers and address questions about OTC hearing aids? Do your providers know how to prevent and overcome common objections? Again, this is where regular staff training and meetings can have a major impact. With the right scripting and the right mindset, even the most skeptical customers can become satisfied patients. If you don’t already have a value statement, I encourage you to develop one and share it with your employees along with your business goals. Every member of the practice should be able to articulate why you and why your practice.

#4. Make strong clinical recommendations.

When making the recommendation for hearing devices, do you resort to showing patients the full smorgasbord of hearing aids you offer, or do you lead the conversation to a strong clinical recommendation? Patients are coming to you because you are the expert. So, make a clear recommendation and tie it back to their hearing test as well as what you’ve learned during the appointment about their lifestyle, hobbies, career, and budget. That way, patients know you’re not just trying to sell them the premium product but rather there’s a legitimate clinical reason behind your recommendation. It also shows you’ve been listening to them and are committed to finding a solution that meets their individual needs.

#5. Educate patients.

Education and exceptional patient care go hand-in-hand. Both inside and outside the practice, you should seize every opportunity to educate patients about the importance of good hearing health. In addition to attending/hosting community health events and creating educational content (blogs, articles, and videos) to promote across your digital channels, you should always have a collection of up-to-date educational materials in your office. You never know—sending a reluctant patient home with a brochure to review with their loved ones could just provide the push they need to move forward in their hearing journey. It’s also important for providers to explain the blank audiogram before putting patients in the booth. This helps patients and their companions understand what to look for, thus creating greater transparency throughout the testing process.

Industry disruptors and COVID-19 aren’t going away any time soon. But if you and your entire team can openly, honestly, and effectively communicate with patients, then you will lessen their skepticism and increase their trust, leading to greater satisfaction and retention.

Consult can help.
Learn more about our Development Programs!

About the Author

Leah Breuers is the Director of Vendor Relations and Key Account Manager. She has extensive experience in the medical field selling and managing multi-million dollar businesses with a strong focus on customer service, training, increasing profitability. Before joining Consult in 2009, Leah worked both inside and outside the medical industry for emerging and Fortune 500 companies. In her time with the organization, Leah has worked with some of the largest, most engaged accounts and has routinely grown her portfolio by double digits year over year.

Three Questions to Ask Your New Hire After Three Months

The first few months of a new hire’s employment are crucial in determining whether or not they are going to succeed. In fact, up to 20 percent of all new hires resign within the first 45 days. This is an enormous loss for the business given the time and money spent to recruit that person in the first place.

Making sure new employees have all the necessary tools and training they need to be effective in their roles is imperative. If you don’t already have a formal 30-60-90 day onboarding plan in place, it’s time to fix that. Not only are properly onboarded employees 50 percent more productive, but they’re also 58 percent more likely to be with the organization after three years. Because the first few months on the job are usually very hectic for new hires, the 90-day mark is a great time for managers to check in to see how they’re acclimating. You might be surprised how much you can learn about new employees, your managerial style, and your company just by asking a few simple questions. Below are three questions that are guaranteed to provide a lot of valuable feedback on how happy, comfortable, and engaged your new hire is:

“Tell me about your best day and your worst day.”

This is a great icebreaker question that can reveal a lot about the type of work a new hire enjoys doing, how much passion he/she has for the job, and how he/she might deal with change or adversity. It also gives you greater insight into what a typical day is like for this person, as well as the impact of his/her responsibilities on customers and driving opportunities for the practice. New hires may have trouble articulating specific likes and dislikes since, as previously noted, the first three months can be a bit of a blur.

Challenge them to provide at least one example of something that has and hasn’t gone well. There could be instances where they remember feeling elated about a specific task and/or deflated about a decision they made. Chances are your new hire has already faced at least a few challenges. It could be anything from not knowing where to find a particular item to not seeing eye-to-eye with a strong personality in the office. However big or small, this is your chance to uncover and address any concerns or issues that could negatively affect your new hire’s performance and contentment. The sooner, the better.

“What would you do differently?”

Three months is just enough time for a new employee to get a firm grasp on how the business operates and what’s expected of them but not long enough for them to get stuck in a rut. That’s why it’s the perfect time to solicit their honest opinions and suggestions. They may point out inefficiencies you weren’t aware of. They may have an eye-opening recommendation that could improve your current processes while also cutting costs. Keep an open mind and remember that you hired this person for a reason. Really listen to what they have to say, take notes, and make sure they feel heard. Empowering your new employees to speak up and openly contribute ideas helps you build trust with them. You’re also planting the seeds of their professional development by encouraging them to think like a leader and continuously seek out possible areas for improvement.

“How can I help you succeed?”

This is an excellent question to ask new hires for several different reasons. First, it’s a less daunting way to essentially ask “How can I be a better manager for you?” It’s important to let your staff know that you are open to discussing your own performance to ensure you’re creating the best possible work environment for them. Second, you’ll likely find out if the employee has everything he/she needs to be productive and if there’s anything he/she is still unclear on. Perhaps this person would benefit from having access to a particular program or there’s an inexpensive tool that would help him/her get work done faster. It could be an easy fix but the only way to know is to ask. Lastly, asking this question will give you an idea of where some additional training might be needed for your new employees to strengthen their skills and become the best versions of themselves.

The ultimate goal of the 90-day review/check-in with your new employees is to set them up for long-term success. So, soliciting their feedback isn’t enough—you need to follow up! Acknowledging then acting on some of the discussion points will show the employee that you truly care about his/her feelings, well-being, input, and professional development. As a leader, you need to build a foundation of trust and respect before your business and employees can grow together.

For help with hiring and onboarding new employees, turn to our experienced team of human resources and recruiting professionals. Learn more about our industry-leading HR & Recruiting Solutions!

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About the Author

Jason DiOttavio joined ConsultYHN as a Corporate Recruiter in 2011. Previously, he worked as an agency recruiter for a staffing firm specializing in IT/Administrative roles including such large companies as Dietz & Watson. When not working, Jason enjoys spending time with his wife and two young daughters. He’s also obsessed with cooking shows and finding new ice cream and donut shops.

How to Build Your Company Brand by Hiring for Culture and Engagement

It’s estimated that there will be 20,000 job openings for audiologists in the U.S. by 2028. Unfortunately, there are not enough licensed professionals in the field, audiology programs in the U.S., or students in those programs to keep up with accelerating demand. In fact, there may be more audiologists retiring from the profession over the next decade than entering it.

When you take this dearth of providers and factor in the cost of hiring new employees (an average of $4,000+ per hire), the cost of employee churn (fees paid, human capital involved with the onboarding process, downtime to train), and the damage done to your staff morale and patients’ perception of your practice, the price of failure becomes quite clear.

Ultimately, for your business to be successful, you need to be competitive in identifying, attracting, and hiring top talent. If you don’t hire the best people, your competitors will—it’s a zero-sum game. The upside is that when you get it right and hire the best, you’ll be in a great position to develop the culture you need to take your practice to the next level and become an “Employer of Choice” in the hearing healthcare field.

Hiring for Attitude & Culture

Your “brand” is who you are. It’s reflected to the outside world through the prism of your practice culture. It’s how your community, patients, employees, and competitors perceive you. For better or worse, it’s best reflected by the team you’ve assembled. The good news is that this is all within your control. Should you desire a different culture, a better brand, you can create it. And you do that by hiring the right people.

To define “the right people” in the context of hiring, we should start by reviewing the difference between skills and traits: skills are relatively easy to teach or develop while traits are very difficult to teach or develop. Now consider how you vet and weigh skills and traits when making hiring decisions. Why are skills so important to you and could traits be even more important? Remember: the traits of your employees will rarely change, the collection of traits across your entire staff is your culture, and your culture is what defines your brand.

Researcher Mark Murphy’s three-year “Hiring for Attitude” study of 20,000 new hires at over 300 organizations showed that most “misses” (bad hires) are not due to issues of technical competence (lacking skills), but rather issues around attitude, attributes, and emotional intelligence (traits). Of the 9,200 new hires that failed, the vast majority—81 percent—failed because they didn’t have the right traits for the job, resulting in poor cultural alignment to the organization.

This shouldn’t be a surprise since skills are relatively easy to vet. Did you ever hire an audiologist who didn’t work out? Did they have the skills for the job? Or was it something else that led to their failure—attitude, work ethic, emotional intelligence (EQ)? You need to identify which traits are most important to your organization’s culture and then vet for them during the interview process.

This is my own personal list (feel free to make it yours!):

  • Work ethic
  • Coachability
  • Empathy (EQ)
  • Respect
  • Self-awareness (EQ)
  • Positivity
  • Passion
  • Energy

It’s not always easy to resist the urge to overvalue skills due to cognitive biases at play. Those same biases can also cause us to minimize the importance of traits when we make hiring decisions. Have you ever described your ideal candidate to a recruiter as someone who can “hit the ground running” because they “have all the required skills” or, one of my favorites, “requires little supervision because I don’t have time to manage them?

I’ve heard these kinds of statements a lot in my 20+ years as a professional recruiter. And when I do, I know that it says far more about the hiring manager and the organization’s culture than about the candidate they’re seeking. If you have a sound grasp of what’s teachable and are willing to teach it, you’ll stand a much greater chance of hiring the right people and building your best culture. While it may seem like an arduous task to build skills in an employee, remember that it’s almost impossible to build or change traits, attributes, or attitudes.

Building & Maintaining Your Culture

As an owner or practice manager, don’t forget that you play a very important role in building and maintaining your desired workplace culture—you’re required to lead! Be mindful of how you carry yourself and how you interact with your staff and patients. All of your actions and behaviors matter. These are the behaviors that effective leaders exhibit:

  • Exude unerring positivity
  • Communicate with utmost clarity
  • Possess a clear vision and work tirelessly to gain alignment to that vision
  • Listen with compassion and empathy
  • Build trusting relationships with words and actions
  • Express gratitude

You should intentionally engage in these actions, behaviors, and attitudes every day. Great leadership is not accidental!

Becoming and ‘Employer of Choice’

You’ve hired all the right people, they’re all highly engaged, and finally, you have the culture you’ve always wanted and known you deserved. Congratulations! All that’s left to do is maintain the culture you’ve worked so hard to build and solidify yourself as an “Employer of Choice.”

The best way to do this is to first, identify your “brand champions” (i.e., the best of the best, the most engaged of all the engaged). They’re easy to find. Simply look for employees who:

  1. genuinely enjoy their job/don’t just do it for the money,
  2. look for opportunities to mentor, and
  3. demonstrate the behaviors of leaders (see above)

Second, give them additional responsibilities! Any good leader loves a good challenge. When you give these employees opportunities to mentor, encourage them to evangelize your practice through social media, community groups, and professional associations, and hold them accountable, they will value themselves even more, and then they will thrive.

Conclusion

Creating a great culture, one that emphasizes growth and development, will demonstrate your organization’s value to candidates. When you offer opportunities to learn and grow, when you can site real-life examples of employee development, and when you can identify an evangelist within your organization who can speak to your culture of growth, you will then be in a great position to attract additional, like-minded employees.

Practices that utilize Consult’s industry-leading human resources consulting and staffing solutions see incremental increases in revenue and the highest levels of measurable engagement. That’s because our experienced recruiters vet candidates for the highest skill level as well as aligned cultural fit.

About the Author

Ernie Paolini is responsible for Human Resources and Recruiting Services at Consult YHN. He has more than 20 years of experience in building and managing technology-driven HR and recruitment organizations. His areas of expertise include behavioral interviewing, employee relations, compliance, and onboarding.