The Story Behind A Better Ear

Reading a clinical paper on the new couch.

Why I Started An Independent Hearing Clinic.

I realised, when working for one of the major hearing firms, that if I wanted to put patients first, I would need to start my own independent hearing clinic.

I still remember the day I realised I needed to start an independent hearing clinic. A patient had just handed me an advertisement the firm I worked for had published to appeal to pensioners. The patient was excited because the offer sounded great. And it was! Unfortunately, what was being offered as a special deal was actually his government entitlement. Shortly later the ACCC would put the hearing sector on notice for just this kind of practice.

I was speechless. Was this what I’d studied an intensive 2-years Masters of Audiology for?

No. I wanted to behave with integrity and genuinely help people with their hearing loss. And I knew how to do it.

My Master’s degree had taught me to think like a health detective. It taught me to keep my eyes open for signs of an underlying pathology that may indicate a need for concern, and it taught me discipline. Discipline to never cut corners when performing diagnostic tests or hearing aid fittings. I had learned that this was required to properly understand a patient’s situation and to fit their hearing aid precisely according to their unique prescription.

Personal experience is an honest and invaluable teacher too, however. My clinical experience with countless patients had taught me that by really listening to my patients and showing a genuine interest in them, it allowed us to establish the trust so necessary for the conversations that lead to quality rehabilitation.

I’d come to appreciate intimately that hearing loss is an incredibly sensitive subject for many and that the feelings associated contemplating hearing aids run deep. I had come to see firsthand that suffers of hearing loss can often feel very isolated. For some, it had diminished their self-worth. And I’d come to care deeply about my patients and the professional standards of the Audiology industry.

As a result, I was a valued employee and respected clinician. But instead of feeling like I was making a difference, I felt like I was not doing enough. I felt like a round peg in a square hole as I realised I was within an organisation whose clinical policy was to focus on sales techniques and to limit patient options to “one strong recommendation”.

I knew that wasn’t right. It wasn’t good healthcare and it wasn’t good business. I need to start my own independent hearing clinic.

The waiting room a day or two before opening.
Our daughter in the waiting room a day or two before opening. The community notice board (left) is pretty bare but it wouldn’t take long to fill up!

I’d come home and talk about my day at work and my Husband Damien would listen. I would tell stories of my experiences changing patients’ lives and the thank-you letters and cards I’d get.

Then I would describe management meeting and sales training sessions that were utterly deflating. I’d talk of the frustration of being bound up in and industry that was failing to be the best version of itself. The disappointment at seeing patients who had for years been let down by disinterested clinical work and the internal friction I felt working for a device manufacturer who was simply interested in ‘moving product’.

I started thinking carefully about building an independent hearing clinic in which I could combine my training and experience with my empathy and motivation to help people. I made lists and pin boards detailing all aspects of the clinic; the consultation method, the patient experience from beginning to end, the fair-value price structure, the look, smell and feel of the waiting room, and the core values that would guide the clinics day to day business.

Everything about the clinic needed to demonstrate to patients that I was serious about my role as a healthcare provider and show that I wasn’t just another hearing aid sales person. Patients could take one look and be confident that I was going to get the facts right before offering them a solution, and that I took counselling patients to have realistic expectations about their rehabilitation seriously. Most of all I needed patients to be able to tell instinctively that my clinic was focused on delivering consistently positive patient outcomes.

Many patients spend a considerable amount of time managing their health appointments, so I wanted to provide a clinic that felt comfortable. A welcoming place, that has a cuppa waiting for you

So, after more than 12 months planning, a few false starts and plenty of effort, my husband and I founded A Better Ear in a beautiful little shop on Waterloo street and Queen street in Cleveland. Fully independent, owned and run by me; an Audiologist who wants to change lives for the better.

I was now able to perform my role as a hearing rehabilitation specialist according to the best research and deliver the best results.

Unlike many other hearing aid clinics, being independent hearing clinic means, I am not obliged to offer anything other than what I judge to be the best for their individual circumstances. I follow the gold standard of clinical care according to the Australian Acoustics laboratory and evidence-based research, not a sales methodology. And unlike many clinics I don’t have a range of ‘key performance indicators’ to achieve each month for me to be rewarded. Instead, I treat patients like patients. I listen to them; we discuss options, and together we chose what’s best for their rehabilitation.

This is me proudly showing off our new signage late February 2019
This is me proudly showing off our new signage late February 2019

My clinic style now consists of a few key elements;

  • spending the time necessary to perform all the appropriate audiological tests,
  • taking the time to understand my patients unique hearing and communication goals,
  • encouraging partners and loved ones to be involved in the process
  • educating my patients on their test results so they understand their personal hearing circumstances, and
  • offering patients, a choice of option that best suited their lifestyle and their budget.

I’ve also put in place a ‘fair-value’ pricing policy for all products and services. Patients expect unbiased advice from a healthcare specialist and so long as they receive great services, they expect to pay a fair price. This model means we price services and devices at what they are worth. We want those who need the technology to benefit from owning it.

Devices that I’ve seen sold for $10,000 a pair elsewhere, I offer for around $6,500 a pair. We aren’t skimping on technology either! We supply a full range of hearing devices from the ‘free to client’ (fully subsidised to Pensioners and DVA card holders) to the best in Australia!

The decision to price like that comes down to transparency.

Anyone who has ever investigated buying aids for themselves or a loved one knows its extremely difficult to make like for like comparison. We break down all our costs for you so that you can understand what you’re paying for. If you are eligible for a Government entitlement, we can assist you in claiming it.

I don’t see the point in being misleading or making hearing rehabilitation more difficult for patients.

My goal is setting up A Better Ear is simple. I’ve set out to create an Audiology clinic that I’d be comfortable sending my Mum to.

A Better Ear performs a full suite of Audiological services and products; hearing tests and hearing devices, tinnitus counselling, hearing aid adjustments and fittings. We service everyone from school aged children to pensioners, self-funded retirees to business people, Department of Veterans Affairs card holders and pensioners. We prescribe and supply all brands based on their fit with patients; Phonak, Starkey, Oticon, Resound, Unitron, even Brisbane-based Audeara.

Honestly, if you are reading this and you think you or a loved ones quality of life is being affected by hearing loss, if you are trying harder to keep up in conversations or if they aren’t engaging in social settings as actively as they once did, please come in for a chat. Whether you choose to do anything is always up to you but you’ll be much better equipped to make the decision once you have some trustworthy advice.

Our first patients!
Having tracked me down and waited patiently till we opened, my first patients arrive.