Conversations with the International Hearing Society (IHS)

The Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) is committed to transparency and collaboration. ADA has enjoyed a productive and open dialogue with allied organizations including the International Hearing Society (IHS). In the spirit of this collaboration, ADA and IHS will publish joint interviews that will be of interest to members of both organizations.

Recently, we were able to interview two active hearing healthcare professionals who are members of both ADA and IHS; Granville Y. Brady, Au.D., P.A. and IHS President-Elect, Scott Beall, Au.D. They shared their unique perspectives on the issues that both audiologists and hearing aid specialists face and offered solutions to manage those issues.

AP: Thank you both for taking time out of your busy schedules to share your views on hearing healthcare in light of your involvement with both associations, ADA and IHS. Can you briefly share how you first entered the world of hearing healthcare and when you became members of IHS and ADA?

SB: I spent my youth in my family’s hearing aid practice, cleaning hearing aids and doing odd jobs around the office. I earned my hearing aid license while still in college and worked as a hearing aid specialist throughout school, while studying audiology. After graduation, I worked in the family business for eight years before I opened my own practice in Cincinnati, Ohio. (My Mom and Dad are both hearing aid specialists, as are both of my sisters, Julie and Alexandra, and so is my wife, Melissa—it’s a true family profession for us!) My father required all his employees to become IHS members, so I joined IHS in 1985. Regarding ADA, Herb McCollom, one of the pioneers of ADA, encouraged me to join ADA early in my career. Regretfully, I only got around to joining in 2009, but I am so very glad I did!

GB: I began my professional life as a Speech Language Pathologist. In the late 1960s I began studying audiology and became dually certified by ASHA in 1973. I’ve been an active member of ADA, IHS, and other allied professional associations for quite some time now. I currently serve as a trustee of the New Jersey Association of Hearing Health Professionals (IHS State Chapter) and have also served on the New Jersey Hearing Aid Dispensers Examining Committee.

AP: What would you say is the biggest benefit you receive from your membership in IHS? ADA?

SB: I owe my career to IHS. There have been so many threats to the hearing aid specialist profession, in the years that I have been a member. The profession would not be around today if IHS hadn’t been watching over us, addressing issues on a timely basis. ADA gives me a broader perspective into the field and I am inspired by the energy of this organization. It is remarkable to see how both IHS and ADA have independently arrived at the same point of dynamic energy.

GB: IHS is light years ahead of other groups regarding their organization abilities and they are wonderful lobbyists. IHS also has the most cohesive group of supporters. While I may not agree with every piece of legislation they support, I do admire and benefit from their proactivity in legislative efforts. ADA: I am more professionally aligned with ADA than any other group of audiologists, because they are more aligned with privately practicing audiologists. They are also light years ahead of other audiology groups. I appreciate getting to exchange ideas in their active discussion groups.

AP: Both of you are successful audiologists. Why then is it important for you to be an active member in both associations?

SB: Being a member of both organizations helps me realize that we are not that different in terms of the professional problems we face, the obstacles we navigate, and the rewards we reap from our practices.

GB: It is important for audiologists and hearing aid specialists to respect and support each other. Also, I receive my continuing education credits from IHS-approved courses, and in New Jersey, the state only recognizes IHS-approved courses as valid continuing education credits.

AP: Can you describe how being an active ADA and IHS member has made a difference in your professional life?

SB: All of the hearing aid specialists I employ are IHS members, in part, because of the great educational opportunities that IHS provides. The classes, webinars, and convention courses are all excellent ways to keep my employees current in their technical and people skills. ADA is particularly adept at sharing ways to improve my business, especially regarding insurance coding and reimbursement. ADA President-Elect Kim Cavitt, AuD, has done a wonderful job of disseminating information on how to navigate the insurance reimbursement maze.

GB: It gives me the opportunity to interact with other professionals in other parts of the country that I wouldn’t normally have exchanges with, due to our geographic distance. Membership keeps me ahead of the curve because of all the information it provides me. The information received in emails, magazines, and at conventions helps me to anticipate and prepare for what obstacles and challenges will be coming around the corner for my practice.

AP: What do you see as the role of hearing aid specialists in hearing healthcare and how does that dovetail with the role of the audiologist?

SB: The role and capabilities of audiologists is so broad—from industrial audiology to intra-operative monitoring and much more. Hearing aid fitting is one small part of what audiologists can do. Hearing aid specialists are specifically trained in hearing aid fitting, and they are really good at it. In fact, in this area of fitting (where our skills overlap), hearing aid specialists are every bit as good as audiologists.

GB: I see the role of hearing aid specialist declining unless there is a greater emphasis put on 1.) strengthening licensure qualifications and 2.) requiring a more formal education for this profession, such as an Associates degree. Regarding audiologists, I believe we made a lot of gains by moving toward a clinical doctorate. This gives us more respect from other professionals. However, there is a tendency for 'Au.D.s' to shun going into private practice. This may be the downfall of the audiology profession. I believe that ADA and IHS coming together to share ideas may be one of the most important milestones in our industry. We need to take the issues we do agree upon on, and run with them.

AP: Please tell us about the staff in your practices. Does your practice reflect professional diversity by employing hearing aid specialists? What are the titles of the staff you employ in your practices?

SB: I have 34 hearing aid offices throughout Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, and they are staffed by 36 hearing aid specialists. I am an audiologist and I am hiring an associate audiologist in May. All my managing staff have their hearing aid specialist licenses and five members of my staff (including me) have ACA (American Conference of Audioprosthology) accreditation.

GB: My wife, Carol, is the business manager and hearing aid specialist in our practices, and I am the practicing audiologist, and we have several receptionists. This job is not a career, it is a lifestyle, and we have arranged it so that I hope to never retire. We have a symbiotic dream team of professionals.

AP: What have you found to be the prime benefits of having hearing aid specialists on your staff?

SB: In the next few years, the number of audiologists retiring and leaving the profession will be greater than the number of new people coming in. There will not be enough audiologists to meet the need for hearing professionals. Having hearing aid specialists on staff allows me to grow my business while maintaining excellent service to my patients. Hearing aid specialists are absolutely essential in serving the needs of the oncoming wave of baby boomers.

GB: Hearing aid specialists can specialize in a lot of the work (hearing aid fitting, programming, real ear testing, etc.) that thereby free audiologists up to concentrate on their specialties (working with children, inmates, and perform audiologic testing that is non-hearing aid related). Another benefit is the balance that this partnership provides. Each of us has a certain skill set that we can focus upon, which prevents us from spreading ourselves too thin.

AP: What value does the hearing aid specialist in your practice bring to your patients?

SB: Many of the hearing aid specialists who I employ are people entering their second career in life. This gives them a broad perspective in relating to people, which is necessary to make patients feel at ease.

GB: In my situation, we are able to focus on the different aspects of rehabilitation. My hearing aid specialist has a bone-anchored hearing aid, so it is a great help to her in counseling our patients. The other bonus for our patients is that we can work together and bring more to the patient experience. My wife has more technological experience with the hearing aids and I bring audiology expertise. So, our patients receive more care and experience with just one trip to our practice. Also, some female patients prefer to work with a woman, so that is another helpful aspect in our particular practice. I do a lot of work with the corrections department, which is feasible for me because of all the services my hearing aid specialist can provide my other patients.

AP: As active members in your respective state organizations are there things that you have learned there that can be applied nationally?

SB: IHS has 41 state chapters and I am a member of the Ohio state IHS chapter. What I have observed is that issues typically form on a local level and grow from there. So, the state chapters offer an excellent ‘early warning system’ for our national associations to keep track of and address in a timely fashion.

GB: One observation I’ve seen across the board is the overall apathy in volunteer organizations. It is typically the same people doing the same volunteer work. We need young blood! We need more professionals to join in at the state level to drive change, and any help we can get from IHS and ADA in developing our state chapters is much appreciated.

AP: What do you see as the greatest challenges on the hearing healthcare landscape and what can IHS and ADA do to help members overcome those challenges?

SB: Currently, the practice of hearing aid fitting is being squeezed between two competing forces. On one side, is the push to deregulate hearing aid sales, which is leading to Internet and over-the-counter hearing aid sales. On the other side, there is the idea that you shouldn’t be able to sell and fit a hearing aid unless you have a degree in audiology. In the meantime, 80% of the people who would benefit from hearing aids don’t have them. The truth is that hearing aids should only be fitted by properly licensed (or registered, in some states) hearing professionals. There are 18,000 licensed professionals (audiologists and hearing aid specialists) who are dispensing hearing aids in the U.S., and there are 30 to 50 million hearing-impaired people who need our help. We need to grow past the scarcity mentality that states, “One more customer for you means on less customer for me, ” and realize that there are far more people who need our help than there are providers to serve them. We need to see each other as colleagues and allies. Hearing aid specialists and audiologists have a lot to learn from each other, if we will be open and listen.

GB: The number one problem I see is the proliferation of cheap hearing aids distributed through the big box retailers and the Internet. That is why I strongly support better basic education for specialists entering the field, coupled with tougher licensing and more continuing education. This strategy will push people out of the field who are not dedicated to improving the state of hearing healthcare. Making it more difficult to obtain licensure will increase the value of hearing aid specialists. In conjunction with a more stringent training and licensing process, I believe that our associations need to hold manufacturers responsible, regarding to whom they sell their products.    

Both Dr. Brady and Dr. Beall have embraced diversity in professional specialization and both have carved successful practices. They exemplify how audiologists and hearing instrument specialists working together, can advance the state of hearing healthcare and improve the quality of life for many hearing-impaired individuals.