A Defining Year for Audiology

A Defining Year for Audiology

Kristin Davis, Au.D.

As 2022 began, hearing healthcare remained top of mind in the media, with the public, and in Washington, D.C., from Medicare expansion in the form of the Build Back Better bill to the FDA Proposed Rule for OTC Hearing Aids. Beginning my term as your ADA President, I must admit I felt a little like a novice in the gladiator ring. The upheaval in audiology and the hearing aid industry has sparked a recurring debate regarding the future of the profession of Audiology. This is not a new topic but has gained attention in the past few months as it is being discussed on social media, in our professional journals, during networking at conferences, and in the classrooms of our future doctors of Audiology. The debate centers around the external versus internal threats to our profession. What are they, which are the most potentially harmful, can we control any of them, should we have seen them coming? Will Audiology survive??

The most popular cited external threats include lack of perceived value for our services, poor consumer understanding of Audiology as a profession, and not being viewed by the public as a healthcare profession. Managed care, vertical integration, the exorbitant tuition costs to enter our profession, and lack of cohesion as a profession also commonly make the list. In addition, the cost of technology remains high for independent audiologists and therefore patients, while insurance reimbursement for audiology services remains extremely low. Finally, there is the common complaint of Costco and now OTC hearing aids. These have all been with us for a while or we have seen them coming; they should not be a surprise to anyone.

Popular choices for internal threats are audiologists’ refusal to accept change, continued audiology participation in managed care programs, lack of diversity in our profession including lack of education and training regarding diversity, and our inability to unite into one national professional organization. In my view, we are the number-one internal or external threat that we face. We, as a collective group, have been unwilling to acknowledge that change needs to occur—and to embrace it! Audiologists have not even implemented best practices in totality. We must act like a doctoring profession to expect to elevate our profession to that level. How do we expect to reach a consensus on messaging to the public, implementation of OTC, certification, and so on if we can’t even check best practices implementation as a profession off our list?

A critical step in saving Audiology is to complete our transformation to a doctoring profession. The passage of MAASA is key! ADA, AAA, and ASHA have been working collaboratively the past couple of years to move MAASA across the finish line; but the work is being done by a minority of audiologists. We need to stop complaining about there being more than one Audiology organization and reflect on why that is. Our profession is truly diverse. We have military audiologists, academic audiologists, private practice audiologists, educational audiologists, rehab audiologists—find the organization(s) that meet your needs and get involved! Appreciate the importance of education and advocacy in the hearing healthcare space.

Acting like a doctoring profession means practicing to the top of our scope of practice and following best practices. Then we provide true value. Understand the importance of collaboration with other healthcare specialists to optimize patient outcomes, refer when appropriate, educate healthcare providers and the public on the importance of hearing healthcare to overall health and wellbeing including how it relates to other comorbidities. Fight for your scope of practice and for recognition of treatment and rehabilitative services for insurance reimbursement, and donate your time, talent, and funds to facilitate change. I may sound like a broken record, but the importance of audiologists completely evolving to a doctoring profession and differentiating ourselves is crucial to the survival of the profession and cannot be overstated.

There is no longer time to procrastinate. It is time for audiologists to wake up! Apathy, resulting in lack of action and negativity, is nibbling around the edges of audiology, and if we aren’t careful, it will eat our profession alive. The GOOD NEWS is that we control what happens next. The answers lie within us, and only we can do the work. As I sit here with my cup of coffee reflecting on the past two months, instead of feeling apprehension, I feel anticipation and excitement for the year to come.

Let’s stop complaining and get involved at the state and national level! Let’s spread positivity and empowerment to students, not fearmongering. Let’s evolve our service and delivery models to meet the needs and desires of today’s patients. Let’s employ innovative thinking to reinvent and grow awareness of Audiology and hearing healthcare. ADA has always led and been the champion for our profession; this is what we do! Let’s make 2022 a defining year for Audiology! Who is ready to do the work with me? ■