It’s Not “Business as Usual” at the University of Kansas

Author: Lauren Mann, Au.D.

In a competitive audiology landscape, it is important to stand out. That is why we’re shaking things up at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) Audiology Clinics, and I encourage you to consider doing the same. The students in our AuD programs will soon be our peers in the field, and they have a lot more to offer than shiny, new clinical skills. This generation of students has grown up with technology and is accustomed to building interpersonal relationships through smartphones and social media. In an effort to improve our own clinic foot traffic, I turned to our students to explore new uncharted territory and the benefits have been unbelievable. I am proud to share some practical tips clinicians can incorporate in their practices. With or without new AuD graduates in your clinic, it is time to prepare for a new generation of competitors in the field.
Figure 1 and 2: Two examples of content launched through social media campaigns by KU students. They competed for likes and shares.

Technology Is Your Friend
Our students have been swiping cell phones since childhood, and their comfort level with all things tech cannot be denied. Rather than scolding students for playing on Facebook and Instagram, we decided to harness their social networking skills. Our eager student workforce can consistently post on the clinic’s social media sites and keep the content current. With 1.23 billion daily users, Facebook provides practices with an easy entry into social media marketing (hubspot), and is more popular with older adults than other options like Twitter and Instagram (entrepreneur). On Facebook it is free to self-promote, or you can pay to reach targeted audiences through the site. In addition, Hubspot, Adweek, ConstantContact, and many other websites offer social media marketing tips from industry bloggers if you are strapped for ideas and content. Our students look to professional audiology organizations and industry for articles and ideas to share on these various social media platforms. Experienced clinicians can take a cue from students by sharing emerging hearing research with their followers. This type of content shows your followers what is on the horizon in our field, and that you are staying current.

Figure 3: Joshua Carpenter, a class of 2018 AuD student counsels using an interactive touch screen display.

Staying current with technological trends in the field requires KUMC student clinicians to play on their phones and tablets at work, and not just when professors aren’t looking. The students are encouraged to utilize clinic smartphones to share video otoscopy with patients. Tablet computers are used to actively engage patients in counseling. We have experienced higher patient compliance with recommended relaxation and sound therapy applications when the students demonstrate their function in the clinic. It is one thing to tell a patient to go home and download an app, and another to actually help them download the app during an appointment, and to walk the patient through the hearing aid features. Figure 3 is an example of this type of interaction, enhanced with a tablet computer. Although it is important to explore new ways to incorporate technology into the clinic, KUMC faculty also make sure the students do not lose sight of some business basics.

Don’t Lose Your Old School Habits
Although it would be more efficient to automate appointment reminders with cool new software, we have the student office staff call each patient a few days before their appointment. If a patient cannot make the visit, she is already on the phone with someone who can help reschedule. When questions come up, or a patient is confused on how to find our clinic, these potentially anxiety-inducing situations are quickly alleviated by the student office staff. The KUMC Audiology Clinic is in a fortunate situation because students answer the incoming calls and can address most hearing aid-related questions or quickly triage the call. If you are not fortunate enough to have an AuD student running your clinic, you can easily create a triage map for your staff, which includes common questions and appropriate responses or appointments. The KUMC Audiology Clinic Front Desk Manual includes photos of common hearing aid components for each manufacturer, as well as, a guide to common fixes for almost any given complaint.

In addition to conducting live human phone calls, student clinic staff routinely employ the art of the handwritten note. Each new hearing aid recipient is sent a handwritten thank you note with business cards encouraging the patient to share his story. It is important to us that our patients feel like a valuable part of our training program. Without patients, who are willing to see a student clinician on-campus, we are left with relying on outside clinical placements for the majority of our clinical training. Although we highly value these training opportunities, and the variety of skills they promote, it is a large burden for those clinics to bear.

The thank you note is more than an opportunity to increase referrals; it helps our students strengthen their rapport with patients. I routinely have patients thank me for the thank you note and share that they are happy to see that our students appreciate the value of the written word. Patient relationships are the foundation of our student-run clinics, but we have recently added a new layer by sending our Business of Audiology class out into the field to learn about physician marketing.

Physicians Need Audiology Education. Period.
Physician outreach is not a new concept, but it remains under-utilized by many practices. Before joining the KUMC Audiology faculty, I worked in a busy ENT practice and struggled to find the time, and sometimes the stamina to consistently market to area primary care offices. Today, there are several turn-key physician outreach programs available. I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in the Hearing Healthcare Marketing program, with Bob Tysoe, and found the support and resources I needed to successfully make physician outreach house calls. Mr. Tysoe continues his support each year by training our AuD students on disease-state and physician marketing. I encourage any practice who has not explored these topics to seriously consider it. Our students are asked to complete a half-semester group project where they source relevant research for a specific topic like noise-induced hearing loss, develop physician marketing materials, and in-service a physician group to present their topic. In the beginning, students are very apprehensive about cold-calling local physician groups. They are discouraged at times, especially when they report that it takes a long time to get some face-to-face meetings scheduled. However, developing this ability as a student is essential to learning and growing the necessary skills to successfully promote the importance of audiology services.

Students learn the value of professional persistence and find ways to break a large metropolitan area, like Kansas City, into manageable sections. I encourage any provider looking to start physician marketing to consider the immediate vicinity of their practice, maybe within a twenty-minute drive. Divide that region into four sections and start by reaching out to providers in one quadrant at a time. It will make the task more organized and allow you to focus on building a few strong referral connections before expanding your reach. Students learn about anti-kickback, Stark laws and the ethics of professional interaction, throughout their semester enrolled in the Business of Audiology course. It is important to understand these guidelines and build relationships where you feel comfortable sharing co-morbidity medical literature and offering your services to a primary care provider. Our physician marketing program involves a large spreadsheet that documents the date and outcome of each physician interaction. Students quickly learn where to focus their efforts, and when they need to re-evaluate the plan. Changing the plan may include providing hearing screening resources, different types of healthcare research more relevant to the provider, or simply switching the student marketer. Although our students are repeatedly left with closed doors and unreturned phone calls, each successful connection is worth the persistence. When students present the summary of their physician marketing experience, the excitement is palpable. It has quickly become one of my favorite projects; we get to hear inspired groups of students share their triumphant stories, documenting how they finally reached a physician group and shared their message.

Figure 4: The AuD class of 2017 with Esther Kim center.

Throughout the project, students, like those shown in Figure 4, share experiences and strategies with the other groups and develop confidence in their topic. Many students are surprised to learn when providers have not heard of audiology or do not fully understand the services provided by our clinic. The goal of the physician outreach project is to establish physician referral sources for our own student clinics, but more importantly, to equip students with a unique skill set they can highlight on job applications. One of our fourth-year externs, working at Hearts for Hearing in Oklahoma, recently reached out to me to share her success in applying these skills on the job. She was excited to contribute to the clinic as a student and to add unique value in the practice:

“During our Business of Audiology class, beyond the typical curriculum, we gained valuable skills that would help us to keep the lights on in our future practices. Before the class, I did not know «physician marketing» could even be an avenue for patient referrals, and now as a fourth year extern, I have been able to utilize the lessons we learned to reach out to physicians in the local area. The class taught me what type of information to prepare and pass along to physicians and their teams. I also learned how to develop ongoing relationships with medical professionals so that more patients could receive quality hearing care.” – Esther Kim AuD Class of 2017.

Whatever It Is You Do, Do It Well
To stand out in a competitive local market, the KUMC Audiology Clinics looked to emphasize our unique offerings. For us, it was easy to decide that students should be showcased in every aspect of the practice. In addition to our student clinicians, there are paid graduate teaching assistants who answer the clinic phone, operate our clinic reception, and work along staff on many facets of the patient journey. Students in the Business of Audiology course create and track our marketing campaigns, and our students are also active in community outreach and hearing loss prevention. Our program puts students at the center of clinic operations to inspire them. It gives them a sense of pride in maintaining their own clinic. When our business class develops a marketing piece and the student office staff can track return-on-investment, we really see their understanding of the marketing process grow. Figure 5 shows a group of AuD students presenting at the Landon Center on Aging. At this seminar, students covered a variety of communication strategies and conversation techniques for individuals with hearing loss.

Figure 5: AuD class of 2018 students presenting at the Landon Center on Aging.

We utilize every opportunity to showcase the research being conducted in our audiology department, along with the activities and successes of our current and graduated students. If you don’t have students and researchers to boast about, find what sets your practice apart and don’t be afraid to showcase it. Audiologists too often minimize their skill set and other contributions to the wellness of their communities. At the graduate education level, we are working hard to develop well-rounded clinicians. Our ideal graduate will leave these KU walls with compassion for their patients, innovative approaches for incorporating technology and social media in their clinics, and a solid foundation of science on which to base their clinical decisions. Although all of us on the KUMC Audiology facility encourage you to fully explore the potential of graduating AuD students, we hope our story, at the very least, will inspire you to build strong synergistic relationships with other medical specialties.    
Dr. Lauren Mann is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Hearing & Speech at University of Kansas Medical Center. She can be contacted at