The perception of free
Why do we offer free hearing tests? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the impetus to do so. Everyone else is right? I think we should question that though. It’s easy for me to say that though, I never did anything on the basis that all the cool kids were doing it. In fact I am famous, infamous? For non conformity. But let’s look at it, let’s look at how it happened, what the need was, what the effect is and question should we be still doing it.
In the UK and Ireland “Free Hearing Tests” were a product of the National businesses. There have been free hearing tests offered for so long, I think many can’t remember a time when there wasn’t. It was probably a reaction to the NHS where hearing tests were free. Because UK Nationals had hegemony in Ireland, the free hearing test concept spread here. The thought process I am sure was they don’t want a hearing test, let’s remove the barriers. The old adage “get them in front of us” or “Bums on seats” I am sure played a part as well.
Times they are a changing, increasing pressure on our profession from different elements has ensured that many of us within the profession question what and how we do things. Those pressures are healthy, in response to them we as a profession have become more professional. Many of us offer in depth and comprehensive testing and aftercare because of those pressures. The profession has diversified the services we offer. Ear wax removal is just one service we have introduced to our Practices. Many are involved with Tinnitus Therapy.
More and more of us are focusing on hearing protection. Some of us are even looking at pediatric testing and balance assessment as a service. Why? Because we feel the pressure, not just that, our sense of ourselves as professionals with something to offer is increasing. That’s why I celebrate external pressure, that’s why I celebrate disruption. Because it forces us to react, to innovate. Because we are lazy, it’s a human condition, without challenge we would continue to do the same thing again and again.
Time is money
So back to free hearing tests, why do we still offer them? A decent audiological work up takes at the minimum forty minutes. That’s forty minutes of your time that could you could spend elsewhere within your business. Time really is money, that adage is only to become truer as the pressures on our profession increases. From a financial point of view, offering free hearing tests may well become economic suicide in the future.
Free usually isn’t good
The other observation I have is the psychological impact of “Free”. If I get something free, my perception of value is decreased. It is free, therefore, not very good. For the more suspicious of us, free usually means there is a catch! You want to sell me something!
Advice vs Sales
We are involved in sales, whether you like it or not, whether you admit it or not. I have always felt that offering a free hearing test places us in the centre of a sales environment. That I believe is the perception of the people who we see every day. In the minds of some, much of the advice we give is sales patter. Not good honest advice. The reasoning is you got me in here for free so you must be selling me something. So does the free hearing test in fact work against us as a profession? I think it may actually detract from our position as qualified professionals.
Increasing Professionalism and free
As I said earlier, our professionalism is increasing. How we undertake auditory work ups has changed. Many of us are doing speech testing of some sort as a matter of course. Many of us undertake impedance testing again as a matter of course. We undertake quicksin and other tests not because of the smoke and mirrors but because it delivers valid results. Gone for many of us is the time when half of our consultation was smoke and mirrors to impress.
Many of the successful Independent players in our market have raised their game to almost un-imaginable heights. They have deployed beautiful Practices with clear ideas about private healthcare in mind. They undertake in-depth testing with the best equipment. They continuously update their education and specialise in more diverse areas.
With that in mind, does free devalue them? Does free devalue us all and what we offer? I think that we as a profession have conspired to devalue ourselves for many years. We are in fact seeing the culmination of that devaluation. We have become synonymous with hearing aids, not the service we provide. Many within our profession have felt the increasing pressure of that.
I have long lobbied for people to take back their value in the process. Does offering “free” help us retain our value? I don’t think so and I am sure there are many that will agree. Is it therefore time that we re-assessed free?