1First, tell us about the impact that COVID-19 has had on your practices.
We’re in Arkansas which is one of few states that hasn’t had a stay-at-home order. So, our business hasn't been impacted like so many others across the country. However, about 60 -70 percent of our appointments did have to be canceled, rescheduled, or switched to a virtual appointment to help our high-risk patients.
Fortunately, I haven’t had to lay off or furlough any employees. Even with the decrease in our patient load, there were so many things we had put on the back burner that needed to be done. So, we were able to keep everybody employed because we had things to do behind the scenes, like paperwork and reaching out to our patients to let them know how we could still assist them. We didn’t have to limit hours at our Little Rock clinic, but we did close our waiting room. We were screening patients before they came in, doing curbside service for cleaning checks, and we had a drop box. Our satellite location is in an urgent care clinic, and we couldn't control what was happening in the waiting room, so we stopped actively seeing patients there for about two weeks. We’re just starting to see patients there again in a controlled environment.
2Like many practice owners, you started offering Telehealth services for the first time last month. How has it been going, and can you tell us about the process?
We're not currently doing any diagnostic services through telehearing, just virtual appointments. We’re focusing on our new patients who were scheduled for a test, but it's not safe for them to come in for a face-to-face appointment. We’re doing our case history and gathering as much information as possible. It's allowing us to take more time with patients and really build a rapport with them. We're also doing clean and check services, walking patients through those services, and we can assist with adjustments depending on the age of the hearing aid and the manufacturer.
We're trying to use CounselEar as much as possible because it’s HIPAA secure and we know restrictions will be eventually put back in place. However, HIPPA regulations are really relaxed right now. You can use FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, whatever—you don't have to use a paid-for program. It’s extremely simple. Let's say a patient calls in and she has a question about her hearing aids. Well, instead of scheduling a time for that person to come in or directing them to curbside service, what we're trying to do is get the patient on a video call with one of our providers immediately. We have two providers and obviously, we have extra time right now. So, why not get them on the phone now and see how we can help?
3What type of response have you received from patients about your Telehealth services and what would you say are the biggest benefits and challenges?
Most of our patients have been open to it. There are some who don't understand the process or feel like they don't have the ability to do it; they think they're going to have to download additional software. But with CounselEar, all they need is an email address and a smartphone or a computer with a camera. For many of our more geriatric patients who don’t have those items, what we’ve been seeing is that one of their children will help them and then stay for the appointment. It helps to have that other person, whether we're just going through how to clean and check their hearing aids again or doing a hearing aid consultation, which is so easy if they've already had a hearing test. So, one of the biggest benefits is that it’s really helping us connect even more with patients and their families. And their loved ones are getting more involved in their hearing healthcare.
Another benefit is that some of our younger patients are fit with a hearing aid and need to come back in a week or two for follow-up. Typically, they need to work around their work schedule or take time off. Well, now they don't have to do that. We also have patients who live an hour or two away, but with Telehealth, we can eliminate a great deal of those appointments.
4You recently did a cash flow analysis with your Account Manager. Can you talk about the value of it for Associates who haven’t completed one yet?
It was eye-opening for us. We have an accountant and a company that does our books, so we get P&Ls [Profit & Loss Statements] monthly. But having somebody who truly understands our business walk us through it really puts things into perspective. We’re very fortunate that we’re still able to see patients, but if we were in a situation where we couldn’t generate revenue, it would help us understand what that would look like and what our options would be.
5What are some things you plan to do or changes you plan to make to ensure you’re able to hit your goals this year?
One thing we're already doing is putting an emphasis on Telehealth. I'm excited about Telehealth. It's not something that will go away—it’s here to stay and it's going to allow us to communicate with our patients more effectively. I’m looking into the models that similar industries are using and trying to figure out how we can use it more in the future as a hearing aid practice so we can be more efficient with our time. Another thing we’re doing is we're really taking time to go through and clean up our database and contact patients so we can maintain our relationships with them.
6Is there anything you’ve learned the last two months that you think will have a positive impact on the business going forward?
One thing I've learned through all this is the value of communicating (and even over-communicating) with my staff and my patients. There are so many different ways we can reach a patient, whether it's calling them on the phone, mailing them letters, emailing them, texting them, putting something on social media. We want to make sure we’re communicating consistently across those different avenues and capturing patients' information across them as well.
7On top of everything else that’s going on right now, you’re also preparing to go on maternity leave in a few weeks. What are you doing to make sure your team is ready to run the practice in your absence?
I think the weekly teletraining calls with the providers and front office staff are helping to prepare us for that time, because it's empowering the employees. One of my goals is to really articulate the vision to them. My hope is that my passion is going to become contagious—that they're going to hear it so much and believe in it enough that they're going to relentlessly pursue and drive that vision while I'm away.
8You’ve really invested in employee development. Tell us more about the difference the weekly teletrainings and meetings with your Account Manager has made on your practice.
Our weekly one-on-ones with our Account Manager, team meetings, and the teletrainings have all been really important, especially with our business model changing due to the Coronavirus and me being nine months pregnant. I think that my staff finds joy and fulfillment in those meetings. It has motivated them to have some skin in the game, come up with ideas, and feel more like a leader instead of just an employee. I've listened in on some of the DO [Director of Operations] teletrainings and it's interesting to hear how other clinics are functioning or what challenges they're facing. I think it's also showing me how to become a more effective leader. I can sometimes get in my own head – so having these phone calls and hearing different points of view is just invaluable.
9Your practice has achieved incredible growth over a short period of time. Tell us about this and the operational changes you’ve implemented that have been most instrumental to your success.
When we joined Consult in September, we set our goals for 2020 and in just the last three months of 2019, we had already hit those goals. We increased our ASP [Average Selling Price] by almost $800 a unit which really boosted our revenue. We also implemented Block Scheduling which has helped us dramatically. It has cleaned up our schedule and helped me see how much downtime our providers really had. Since our providers aren’t switching from a HAE [Hearing Aid Evaluation] to a cleaning check, and then jumping into a fitting, we're able to capitalize on the time we spend with our revenue-generating appointments and opportunity appointments. We also implemented daily walk-in hours from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. which have now changed to curbside hours.
10Do you think the operational changes you’ve made since September have helped your business weather the COVID-19 pandemic?
I don't know where we’d be right now if we hadn't put those practices in place. But luckily, I don't have to think about that. We haven’t hit our monthly unit goal, however, our ASP has improved so much that we aren't sweating this month.
11Overall, how has joining Consult YHN changed the way you run your practice?
I’m constantly full of ideas and think I could probably solve the world's problems. I'm just joking! But seriously, I'm always jumping from one idea to another. Joining Consult has given me more accountability. I feel like I have a partner to keep me focused, help me understand what we should be measuring, then make sure we’re tracking that consistently. Sometimes when you're really close to a situation, you can become emotional about it and you don’t always see things clearly. I don't always listen. I'm not typical, and I don't want to be typical. But it's good to know that I have somebody who can reel me in, challenge me, and give me advice with actual facts and numbers to back it up.
12Finally, what advice would you give to practice owners who are struggling right now?
I think it's extremely important to be creative. Be aware of what other people are doing but find the area in your community and your practice where you can be unique and run with it! Hearing loss isn't going away. Your patients aren't going away. Yes, it's going to look a little bit different. I don’t think business is ever going to be exactly the way it was before. So just educate yourself and don't be afraid to take a risk.