The Hearing Group - Consult
Pinnacle Hearing
May 7, 2020
St. Luke’s Hospital
July 13, 2020

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The Hearing Group: Finding opportunities and preparing for the future

During this time, it is important as practice owners to remain positive, however, it’s equally as important to focus on what you can control and set realistic plans for the future. For The Hearing Group, located in northern New Jersey - one of the hardest hit states by COVID-19 - the reopening process is slow. The practice reopened by appointment only on May 18th and is still operating with limited staff and budget. Nevertheless, Audiologists and Owners, Debbie Knapp and Robbi Hershon, have maximized their time and efforts by focusing on tasks that will put them in the best position to succeed as business ramps up, including cleaning up the practice’s database, staying connected to patients, scaling back on unnecessary expenses, implementing curbside service, and more. Robbi and Debbie talked candidly about the challenges they’ve had to overcome, their key takeaways from the past few months, and their plans for the future in a post COVID-19 environment.

“We're trying to prepare the office for the new normal and taking the time to do that now because when we get busy, those are things we won’t have time to do.”
Debbie Knapp, Au.D.

Q&A with Debbie Knapp & Robbi Hershon (Owners & Audiologists):

1First, tell us about the impact that COVID-19 has had on your practice?
Debbie: New Jersey was hit pretty hard, so it’s had a huge impact. We had a very nice start to the year and it all just halted—I would say completely by mid-March. We never really closed but we limited our hours and stopped in-office appointments. We just offered curbside repairs and mailed supplies. The curbside repairs have been really key—patients who are hesitant to come into the office are excited about having that option. We also had to furlough our one employee and basically layoff ourselves for a bit.
2Is business starting to bounce back?
Debbie: We reopened by appointment only for in-office evaluations on May 18 but it’s still very difficult to get people to come in. It's finally starting to pick up a little – so Robbi and I aren’t fully back because we just don’t have enough appointments to support it.
3What is the most cost-effective marketing strategy you’ve been doing to drive leads to your practice during this time?
Robbi: We haven’t completely started our search engine optimization or search engine marketing yet because we're waiting to have a stream of income before we do that. But we do have a direct mail piece going to our database through the Consult Database Program in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, that piece will get us there.
4What approach are you taking with your database mailer as far as the messaging? Are you addressing the post-COVID-19 patient?
Debbie: We chose one of the database mailers on Consult’s COVID-19 Resources website. The message is “we're here for you, we're doing everything we can to keep you safe, and here are the extra precautions we’re taking.”
5How has the way that you communicate with patients changed over the past few months and how has the response been?
Debbie: When patients make an appointment, what we’ve been doing is walking them through the entire process and explaining what they can expect. Then, the day before their appointment, we give them a call and tell them again. We're trying to touch base with patients several times before they even come in just so that they feel comfortable. And I feel like that's been working out well. People have been telling us how thankful they are that we’re here for them because there are a lot of facilities that are still closed.
6What other Consult resources or services have you’ve used to help navigate the current challenges?
Robbi: The Owners Meetings and weekly meeting with Bill Urwin have been really helpful.

Debbie: I think what's most helpful about those meetings is hearing what other practice owners are doing and how they're dealing with things. It makes you feel like we're all in this together and helping each other out, which is really nice.
7What are some things you plan to do or changes you plan to make to ensure you’re able to hit your goals this year?
Robbi: When more patients start coming in, we’ll try to make up for the past few months by adding an extra daily opportunity. Debbie is coming in for opportunities and repairs at this point.

Debbie: I did go through the schedule and I added an extra opportunity every single day starting in mid-June when Robbi is back. So hopefully, we'll be able to fill those. Right now, I'm getting a lot of doctor referrals for hearing tests which sometimes do turn into opportunities.
8Is there anything you’ve learned the last three months that you think will have a positive impact on the business going forward?
Debbie: I think it’s made us take a hard look at the financials of the business which sometimes we don’t have the time to do. Being worried about cashflow has forced us to really think outside the box. We’ve been trying to be creative.

Robbi: And things have really come to light. It’s unbelievable how many Tested Not Sold patients we have, or how many people who are Out of Warranty and haven't been to the office in a year or more. It’s just given us a better understanding of things. Like, ‘Oh gosh, maybe I dropped the ball on this. Where are these people? How did we miss so many?’
9What advice would you give to other practice owners who are struggling right now?
Robbi: I would say use this time to work on your practice. I've been going through the database a couple hours every single day, weeding out patients who have cancelled and never come in and leaving just opportunities in our database—people whose hearing aids are Out of Warranty, due for upgrades, Tested Not Sold, etc. So, I've been using my time outside of the office to work on those kinds of things.

Debbie: We've also taken the time to organize the office to get it in the right flow. We’ve made it so that each room is totally accessible without having to go into another room. Sometimes Robbi and I have to go into each other's room when we're seeing patients to get something and that's going to be difficult now. So, we're trying to prepare the office for the new normal and taking the time to do that now - because when we get busy, those are things we won’t have time to do.