Optometry & AudiologyWorking Together to Improve Health O utcomes In the past five years since launching , Specsavers Audiology has opened more than 280 locations across Australia and New Zealand, with 160+ audiology professionals owning the businesses that operate from those stores, under the standard Specsavers Joint Venture Partnership model. In this article, Nick Taylor, Specsavers’ Chief Audiology Officer, reveals the three factors owing to the business’ success, and the impact that Specsavers Audiology is having on our nation’s hearing.WRITER Duchesne Markham A COLLABORATIVE CARE MODEL WITH OPTOMETRYThe Specsavers Audiology care model sees customers who are undergoing an eye test receive a hearing screening as part of their pre-test experience. Since 2018, more than two million Australians and 160,000 New Zealanders have been screened for hearing loss via this model. This is despite the disruptions of COVID-19, which restricted access to care during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns. Delivered by a specifically trained pre-tester, who also carries out an OCT scan, auto-refraction and tonometry before the patient moves to see the optometrist, the free hearing screening takes around five minutes. By including hearing screenings in the standard eye test journey, Mr Taylor says Specsavers is playing a key role in raising hearing awareness and identifying potential hearing problems as early as possible. And, as a consequence, Australians and New Zealanders are gaining easy and convenient access to hearing care earlier, and are more likely to start a conversation about their hearing health.“We know that one in six Australians and New Zealanders experience hearing loss that would benefit from some correction and support, yet only one in three does anything about it. On top of that, there’s a seven to 10-year delay for the average person to do something about their hearing loss. By identifying any deterioration sooner, we can dramatically increase the number of people who have their hearing problems solved, in the process reducing the isolation, stigma, and mental health problems associated with unresolved hearing loss,” said Mr Taylor. If hearing loss is detected during the pre-test screening, or if someone is simply concerned and wants specialised advice on whether further testing is required, Specsavers offers a free 15-minute hearing check conducted by an audiology professional that can be booked online or in person. Mr Taylor continues, “Only two in five Australians over the age of 50 have had a hearing check, despite six million of them living with hearing loss. We know taking that first step and having a hearing check can be daunting for many, but our teams are trained to help customers realise that any deterioration of hearing is a very normal part of ageing and nothing to be worried or embarrassed about.” Mr Taylor says an audiology appointment is a simple discussion with the audiology professional about the potential difficulties the customer may be experiencing and a basic check on the health of their ears. Together with the customer, a decision is made as to whether a more comprehensive assessment would be beneficial. This appointment is a one-hour appointment with the audiologist and costs AU$49, or is subsidised, for those eligible, under the Australian Government Hearing Services Program. It involves the audiology professional taking photos of the ear drum, pressure testing the ear to detect any issues such as wax build up, as well as an audiogram. “The audiogram is conducted inside a soundproof booth to determine which frequencies or pitches are affected, the level to which they are affected, and whether the hearing loss is permanent in nature,” explained Mr Taylor. “ We know that one in six Australians and New Zealanders experience hearing loss that would benefit from some correction and support, yet only one in three does anything about it Once the information is collated, the audiology professional, together with the customer, decide if hearing aids are required. If so, the customer will be provided with options to suit their lifestyle and budget. TRANSPARENT PRICING, LATEST TECHNOLOGYSpecsavers Audiology shares its optometric business’ core belief that everyone deserves access to the best quality care and product. Since launching in 2017, Specsavers Audiology has been on a mission to ensure that Australians and New Zealanders seeking care for their hearing are more informed, particularly when it comes to choosing the right hearing aids. Mr Taylor advises that there is a lot of misinformation in the category, “and unfortunately some providers take advantage of this. For example, the price of hearing aids should be determined by the number of technology features included in the devices, not the severity of the customer’s hearing loss. Our philosophy is also that our audiology professionals spend time with their customers to understand their real needs and then provide personalised advice on the level of technology they would benefit from, so they don’t end up paying for features they don’t need.” To tackle this, Specsavers Audiology provides a wide range of hearing technology to suit every hearing need and budget. The technology features include everything from reducing background noise and increasing the speech sounds from people moving around the wearer, to improving music or TV sound quality. On top of this, prices for Specsavers Audiology’s range of hearing aids are publicly available on the company’s website and in brochures. “Many people are put off having their hearing tested altogether because they are afraid of the cost and, looking at most customer experiences outside of our stores, we can understand why. It’s anyone’s guess, including ours, just how much hearing aids cost elsewhere because many providers don’t make their prices readily available. Even if you call other providers, it can be difficult to get a quote or a price range over the phone,” said Mr Taylor. “What sets us apart is that we manage to keep our prices down. Every pair of hearing aids at Specsavers is made by the same worldleading manufacturers as any other providers. We simply choose to put our customers first, before profit, and offer a fair low price. We don’t want our customers to have to compromise the health of their hearing because of overpriced hearing aids.” As with many other providers, customer care doesn’t stop once hearing aids are purchased. A follow-up appointment, within a month of being fitted, gives the customer an opportunity to ask any questions or discuss concerns. “We make sure the customer can manage the hearing aids well, checking for comfort, correctly getting the aids in and out of their ears, and teaching proper cleaning of the aids.” All hearing aids are fitted at Specsavers and adjusted to the individual, with guarantees in place to reduce any feelings of risk. Every purchase includes the preferred choice of colour and fitting style, as part of the price per pair, which starts at $1,495, and comes with free after-care for 12 months, as well as a 90- day satisfaction period so that customers can feel confident in their purchase.“And, as we are serious about making sure that the cost of hearing aids is no barrier to addressing hearing loss, we also help eligible customers understand how to apply for the government subsidy for hearing aids that is available through the Australian Government Hearing Services Program,” said Mr Taylor. CHANGING LIVES FOR THE BETTERMr Taylor says the process that customers engage with Specsavers Audiology, including how they first have their hearing screened in an eye health pre-test, comes from a customerfirst commitment to change lives for the better. He says that while the process results in earlier detections of hearing loss, it still takes a multiple-conversation approach, over a number of appointments, to bring customers on the journey to understanding their hearing loss and then wanting to do something about it. “We know that customers often take a while to come to terms with their hearing loss and may even be in denial of it, so our collaborative care model really takes their needs into account,” said Mr Taylor. For Specsavers customer Chandra, the signs of hearing loss were tricky to notice. “ You really don’t know what you are missing out on,” he said. “ You get used to not hearing certain sounds. I now understand the importance of getting your hearing checked early, so that hearing loss can be monitored over time.” While audiology services are different to optometric, in that customers don’t often require referrals to specialists for conditions that are sense or life threatening, Mr Taylor says audiology services equally have an instrumental impact on the health outcomes of customers.An Audiologist’s Perspective There were many reasons why Richard Piotrowksi wanted to become an audiologist. Richard Piotrowski Angela Mack “I could not tell you why in less than a textbook chapter,” he says. But primarily it was for the connection with people. “I love my customers; the stories they bring, and the unique paths they’ve travelled so far. Hearing is more than simply listening to the nightly news. “It forms a major part of our cognitive health, our ability to perform dayto-day tasks, and our ability to make sense of the world around us. For me, treating the person, not just the hearing loss, is central to what I do.” Mr Piotrowksi says hearing devices are now a normal part of many people’s daily routine – but he felt the cost and lack of transparency in the industry was having a detrimental effect on his customers. “Specsavers provides an opportunity to practice ethical audiology, in an equitable environment, while also offering world-class technology at price points that are accessible to everyone,” he says. Mr Piotrowksi said it was all the factors that makes Specsavers different – the ethics and vision of the business, the transparent pricing, no sales KPIs, giving clinicians the freedom and flexibility to make clinical decisions, as well as the ability to own his own business with all the built-in support on offer – that encouraged him to take the next step in his career. Now, as the audiology partner for Specsavers Munno Para and Gawler, SA, Mr Piotrowksi can continue treating his customers, and focus on delivering the best care he can. “The opportunity to be part of the changing face of audiology in Australia, while actively promoting a positive culture, and providing informed choice for my customers, drives me every day,” he says. Angela Mack has worked in audiology for more than 35 years across the UK and Australia. Her depth of experience in the industry has allowed her to be involved in training, examining audiologists, and providing service improvement on a national scale. With the knowledge and skill to back her, the Karrinyup and Innaloo, WA store partner thought it was time to take on a new challenge, and she decided to partner with Specsavers. “I ran a large National Health Audiology Service and spent some time on secondment to the Medical Research Council, looking at the introduction of slim tube hearing aids into National Health Services. I spent three years working as the Audiology Service Improvement Lead for England,” says Ms Mack. Ms Mack worked with paediatric, Indigenous and complex clients when she first moved to Australia 11 years ago. She managed a large not-for-profit cochlear implant and vestibular clinic in Perth, then set up hearing clinics in WA for a private provider. “I did a lot of research before joining Specsavers. I moved because I did not like the pressure to upsell hearing devices at soaring prices. I felt unable to provide the quality-of-care customers deserved,” she said. “Over my career, many customers have told me about occasions when they have felt embarrassed at having difficulty joining in on conversations, so they back away from social engagement and start to become isolated. As we all know, social isolation and a lack of independence can lead to a whole range of both mental and physical conditions, especially if the individual is older. Often a simple hearing test, and then the addition of hearing aids, can make all the difference in someone’s life. “Our ability to provide hearing care for so many Australians and New Zealanders for the past five years is due to the dedication and hard work of the team and, of course, our audiology partners, who have embraced our model of hearing care and get up every day to support their customers on their journey to better hearing health,” concludes Mr Taylor. Duchesne Markham is Specsavers Senior Stakeholder and Professional Communications Manager Australia New Zealand. An Optometr ist’s Perspective Joanne Hau When Specsavers Audiology opened at Specsavers Brighton in Melbourne, optometrist partner Joanne Hau admitted that she had a few concerns as to how the service would be accepted with her clientele. However, after a year of her store providing optometry and audiology services, she’s convinced that the approach only results in enhanced health outcomes for patients. “I like the fact that we're offering additional services. Many of our customers are appreciative of the fact that they are offered a hearing screen – they tell us that it had been on their to do list for a long time, so we have saved them a lot of time and effort,” said Ms Hau. “We've had many stories of patients who have put off having a hearing test for the longest time. I think that, while they are comfortable having an eye examination, hearing problems still have a certain amount of stigma associated, so being able to screen them when they’re in a safe place is really helpful. Recently, we looked after a 95-year-old customer who had end stage macular degeneration and glaucoma. “He didn't realise that he was eligible for subsided TV headphones. Although it was a small piece of equipment, it made a huge difference to his quality of life, given he didn't have much functional vision left.” Ms Hau says that her store team has worked hard to learn the skills required to support audiology services, and to make sure patients know that audiology is being offered at the store. “We have worked to let customers know about audiology screening at many of the different touchpoints, such as during the appointment booking process. This has made them more accepting and set their expectations.”
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