The Value of Crowd-Sourced Reviews to Your Practice



An Interview with Abram Bailey of Hearing Tracker
Author: By Brian Taylor, Au.D.

Introduction
If you’ve ever found yourself in an unfamiliar city with hunger pangs and a strong desire to avoid yet another ordinary chain restaurant experience, it’s easy to use your smartphone to find a vibrant local establishment. Simply click on your Yelp app, enter the name of the city and peruse the abundance of restaurant reviews. If you’re in the mood for Asian cuisine, you are likely to narrow your choices on Yelp to all the Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and similar specialties within a reasonable distance of your present location. Simply scan the reviews; see what others are writing about the pho or pad thai. You focus on the few establishments with the most four and five star ratings. In a matter of minutes, pending the traffic and parking, of course, you are sitting at the table of a local restaurant, vetted by complete strangers with a common interest in Asian food. In a nutshell (or rice bowl), that is the value of crowd-sourcing. It’s something that practically everyone with a smartphone can do, including aging adults who are looking for hearing care services.

Hearing Tracker, created and owned by Dr. Abram Bailey, is the Yelp of the audiology world. It aggregates consumer reviews so that other consumers can make informed decisions about small independent businesses that lack the largescale brand recognition enjoyed by most large corporate chains. As hearing care becomes more corporatized, Hearing Tracker is the ideal means for allowing your independent practice to stand out from the crowd. In this interview meet Dr. Bailey and find out how Hearing Tracker can work for you.

AP: Tell us about Hearing Tracker. What are your reasons for starting it?

ABRAM: I studied audiology under people like Drs. Todd Ricketts and Ben Hornsby, who instilled in me a deep skepticism about audiology research and a willingness to question hearing aid manufacturer claims. Through my coursework, and through working with Ben and Todd in the Dan Maddox Hearing Aid Research Lab, I realized that hearing aid research was slow, and that study results were often stripped of brand and model names, making it impossible for audiologists (and consumers) to identify and compare hearing aids in a timely manner.

Lacking anything else to go by, we count on manufacturer white papers, in-house studies touting the benefits of the latest whiz-bang technology, and word-of-mouth from reps and colleagues. So we fit a few patients with model X, and fit a few patients with model Y, and eventually start to get a gut feeling about which model is working… which model is selling, and which model is not being returned. Such anecdotal studies are repeated by thousands of clinicians for every new hearing aid, with great inefficiency, and at no benefit to our profession as a whole. Who pays the ultimate price? The patients who end up with the wrong hearing aids, because we didn’t know any better at the time.

When I created Hearing Tracker, my ultimate goal was to solve this problem. I really thought (and still think) that if you add up all those anecdotal findings (think “big data”), patterns will emerge. If we could learn from our collective experimentation, we could quickly identify products that are better in background noise, better on the phone, have better battery life, break down less often, etc. This information could help inform our hearing aid selections, and help consumers to avoid products that have a poor track record.

AP: What role does Hearing Tracker play in the industry?

ABRAM: Hearing Tracker is independently owned and operated. As a result, we maintain a high degree of journalistic freedom, and have the ability to communicate openly and honestly with consumers about the good, the bad, and the ugly in the industry. Consumers have responded very positively to our messaging, and we have experienced tremendous growth as a reliable informational resource in the hearing space. We have grown from zero to over 30,000 monthly visitors in under two years. Our opinions, and the opinions expressed by consumers on Hearing Tracker, have a considerable effect on consumer sentiment toward products and services in the hearing industry. Trust is the key. We take our users very seriously, and we make every attempt not to undermine their trust. Our primary goal is to provide the education necessary to help consumers successfully navigate the labyrinth of hearing healthcare. Consumers understand that we are on their side, and through partnerships with organizations like the Hearing Loss Association of America, we have solidified our role as an independent consumer advocate.

AP: I think most audiologists like that it's independent. How does Hearing Tracker work?

ABRAM: Hearing Tracker has a few different things going on. We have a blog, a provider directory, and hearing aid reviews. On our blog, we publish a mix of news items, speculation pieces, and educational articles. Our first blog post was “How Often Should I Replace My Hearing Aids.” We continue to generate about 20 hits a day with that one. Our most recent blog post, “Bragi Dash for Hearing Loss,” has received a few thousand hits since we published it yesterday.

Our hearing aid review database is very popular with consumers. More than half of our web traffic is generated by consumers trying to find information about hearing aid reviews on Google. We come up on page one of Google for search terms like “Resound reviews,” “Phonak reviews,” and other related search terms. Consumers are desperate for this kind of information, so we’ve met the need with the very best online hearing aid review system available. However, we still warn consumers not to take the reviews too seriously. Until we have thousands of reviews, they’re largely anecdotal.

Our provider directory includes over 20,000 audiologists and hearing instrument specialists, throughout the United States (and beyond). Consumers can easily locate best-practice providers, providers who perform specific services (like hearing aid fittings), and providers who fit specific hearing aid brands. We also show links to local providers on every hearing aid page, which drives much of the traffic to provider profile pages. Example: If you fit Oticon hearing aids, we’ll show a link to your profile on all our Oticon product pages.

AP: Given the importance of online searching these days it seems obvious, but why should an audiologist have a presence on Hearing Tracker?

ABRAM: Most audiologists don’t spend enough time maintaining and promoting their online presence. Did you know that less than 40% of consumers discover a local business through a search engine? What does this mean? If you’re not marketing yourself through other channels, you’re missing at least 60% of the potential leads in your area, and probably more if your website isn’t ranked well on Google. Only 36% of consumers start a local search on a search engine, with 15% starting at specific sites on the subject, 7% reading customer reviews, 7% looking for locations via online directories, etc. Source: http://searchengineland.com/survey-under-40-percent-start-a-local-search-with-a-search-engine-240426 Audiologists should cast a wide net, and try to pull in as many online consumers as possible. This means being represented, and represented well, on as many online directories, consumer review sites, and relevant content sites as possible. Hearing Tracker is one of many sites that should be included in your overall digital presence. It has become an important resource for consumers with hearing loss, and audiologists who aren’t represented on Hearing Tracker are missing a significant opportunity to connect with highly-qualified leads.

AP: How does an audiologist sign up for Hearing Tracker? What are the fees?

ABRAM: Listing your clinic on Hearing Tracker is simple. Head over to the HearingTracker.com and click on “LIST YOUR CLINIC” in the upper-right hand corner. We offer two membership options: free and premium ($25/month). Free listings are ad-supported and come with no support from the Hearing Tracker team. For premium members, we remove the ads from your listing, and provide personalized phone and email support to help you get the most from the resource. If requested, we’ll even build your listing for you. We also help your clinic stand out on our “Clinic Finder” map, and prioritize your listing on hearing aid pages. There are a few more great benefits for premium members, but I’d rather let the website speak for itself. We outline all of the benefits over at https://www.hearingtracker.com/pro/premium. Note: We offer sliding-scale discounts and a practice management dashboard for medium-to-large organizations.

AP: Ok, let's say I sign up for Hearing Tracker. what does my presence on the site look like?

ABRAM: There is a strong focus on the professional. Building trust is the primary goal.
Figure 1. Screenshots from HearingTracker.com




AP: I know you’ve written some posts on Hearing Tracker about new and emerging technology. Could you elaborate on your analysis of PSAPs and how they might fit into clinical practice?

ABRAM: There aren’t a lot of audiologists talking to consumers about PSAPs on the internet. Before I started writing about PSAPs, most of the information out there was consumer speculation or marketing information produced by PSAP manufacturers. It is our role, as hearing experts, to educate consumers on these products, even if we don’t believe they they should be integrated into clinical practice. The demand for such products is increasing, and it’s our duty to ensure consumers are making educated buying decisions.

I personally believe that PSAPs do have a place in practice, and I don’t think I’m alone. Soundhawk has found its way into many practices, and now Bragi is partnering with Starkey to get the Dash into the clinic as well. Take a look at the PCAST report, check out what’s been happening at the Institute of Medicine, and tell me you don’t see the writing on the wall. Do audiologists really want to be cut out of this burgeoning market? It’s time to rethink the pricing model. We need to figure out how audiology can service PSAP users while still making the necessary profit to stay alive.

AP: What are some of the changes you see in the profession of audiology over the next few years?

ABRAM: I think more manufacturers will fight for a slice of the over-the-counter (OTC) market. Audiologist involvement will be welcomed, but not required. Our profession will need to adjust to the rapidly changing industry in order to stay relevant, and that means embracing alternative hearing solutions. As the OTC market grows, there will be more need than ever for audiologists to help remote consumers. Telemedicine should offer new opportunities.

I also think the profession will need to shift to an unbundled pricing model to survive. High hearing aid pricing has worked in the past, but that was before high-quality alternatives existed for a fraction of the price. The cat’s out of the bag, and consumers are no longer buying the R&D and economies-of-scale arguments for high hearing aid pricing. Unbundling isn’t easy, and we need to fight harder for the rehab reimbursements that we deserve. If we can make headway with initiatives like 18x18, I think we’ll be more prepared for the future.

AP:Any bold predictions about how audiology will be practiced in 20 years?

ABRAM: In 20 years we might be counseling people who have had their outer hair cells restored. Imagine waking up after surgery with perfect hearing after decades of auditory deprivation. Yes, I see an opportunity there.    
Dr. Bailey is a leading expert on consumer technology in the audiology industry. He is a staunch advocate for patient-centered hearing care and audiological best practices, and welcomes any technological innovation that improves access to quality hearing outcomes. Dr. Bailey holds an Au.D. from Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He may be reached at abram@hearingtracker.com.