Your Story (September 2012)

Peer-to-peer exchanges provide exceptional opportunities for knowledge transfer but more importantly for the discovery or rediscovery of camaraderie and common purpose within our profession. For this reason, ADA facilitates the sharing of member experiences through “Your Story”. This month we feature Mel Sorkowitz, Au.D., owner, Royal Palm Hearing Aid Center in Boca Raton, Florida

AP: Please tell us about your practice.
MS: I have two family–owned offices in Boca Raton, Florida that are both store fronts in upscale shopping centers. I have been here since 1984 and these offices are well established.

We service the various assisted living facilities in the area and provide ongoing professional seminars to the residents. We are multi-line hearing aid dispensers. We advertise in the local papers and through occasional TV spot during our tourist season, however, most of our patient flow is a result of word of mouth advertising due to our positive reputation and longevity.

AP: What are some of the most significant changes to the profession of audiology you have witnessed over the past several decades?
MS: First of all, the profession has changed in that in 1969 when I opened my first office in Philadelphia I was not allowed to dispense hearing aids. It was considered unethical by ASHA, at that time.

Secondly, at that time, in my audiology graduate training, we were encouraged to only recommend monaural hearing aids. So, the very fact that we, as a profession, discovered that binaural hearing was superior to monaural hearing was in itself a significant change.

The manufacturer’s role has dramatically changed over the years as well. In 1969, when I went into practice two of the manufacturers were doing about 50% of the business of selling hearing aids. Consequently there were many small manufacturers competing for the rest of the business. It’s hard to believe that back then several manufacturers would not sell hearing aids to me because I was an audiologist.

The quality of the hearing aids, today, is like night and day. There is considerably less service because the hearing aids actually work. Hearing aid technology has finally caught up with our advertising. Sometimes I wonder how I persevered in my practice with the primitive technology we had at that time. Can you believe that a trim pot and a swing-out battery door on an ITE were considered very innovative advancements back in the day?

AP: How have patients changed over the past 40 years?
MS: First of all they are all about my age or younger. Seriously, the Internet has changed the way hearing aids and our profession is perceived. Today’s patients are more astute and have come to understand that good hearing instruments (and service) are expensive. Believe it or not, price and cosmetics is not as much a factor as it was in the past. Of course, the patients have come to expect more as a result of the higher prices, but this is okay, because the quality and the size of the hearing aids is so much better, therefore, we can more adequately meet their expectations.

AP: What are you doing differently in your clinic compared to 40+ years ago?
MS: We are advertising more to the end user and doing more work to broaden our referral base. In the “old days” before ENT physicians were our competitors I was more or less totally dependent on their referrals, so I didn’t advertise to the public. Now that we know our competition, I advertise directly to the end user and enjoy the freedom and autonomy. I still enjoy good relationships with most of the ENT physicians in our area, but the relationships are definitely not the same as they were 40 years ago. My audiology practice at that time was a hybrid, and I don’t think it could be duplicated today because most of the ENTs have audiologists dispensing. Needless to say the hearing aid dispensing environment has changed.

AP: Take us through your clinical process, what are you doing differently compared to other clinics in your market to satisfy your patients?
MS: We offer high end quality products at a fair price in accessible offices that are user friendly and relaxed. There is no high pressure, which is in itself, different from many of our competitors. We have a combination of unique backgrounds. My wife, Sondra, and my daughter, Elissa are both qualified Hearing Aid Specialists. Elissa has been in my practice for 20 years and provides unequaled care and service to our patients. Sondra, a geriatric care manager and a business education teacher manages our offices, which is critical to our success.

AP: What would you like to share with aspiring private practioners?
MS: Be prepared for change! As I see it, the competition is going to change dramatically over the next few years, and audiologists are going to have to retool their thinking and their way of doing business. Some of this change will be, in my opinion, related to the manufacturers involvement and the over-the-counter hearing aid market. So, they should be grateful they are practicing at a time when the technology is so good that they can satisfy more patients.