Being Intentional About the OTC Dilemma

Three Approaches for Dealing With OTCs

Since the FDA approved over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, audiology and ENT practices have had to decide what to do about them. Simply ignoring them hasn’t been an option because patients are asking questions or forgoing the purchase of prescription hearing aids to instead buy an OTC.

This Ask Fuel First question focuses on OTCs: How should my practice handle OTCs?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. There is only what is right for YOUR practice.  

While most of us have known that the OTC channel was going to open for at least five years, many of us have waited until now to develop a strategy for our practices to respond to this new challenge.

Across the country, every practice that we’ve worked with has had one of three approaches to this issue: 1) they won’t discuss or provide OTCs, 2) they may provide a list of vetted products for patients to purchase elsewhere as well as provide support for acclimation to the OTC or 3) they are creating a full-fledged sales channel for OTCs in their clinic.

All of these are valid approaches to the dynamic change in the marketplace, but each requires careful consideration and preparation before implementation. 

Heck No, OTCs Have to Go

Some clinicians choose to avoid OTCs at all costs. They refuse to provide support or direction to patients who may wish to investigate this option. Many practices choose this option for several reasons:

  • They oppose the OTC channel in general.
  • They don’t feel that the revenue stream is worth the investment of time.
  • They prefer to create an entry-level, low-priced treatment plan with prescription hearing aids to combat OTCs. 

These providers clearly delineate the products and services they provide. And many feel that the OTC market was specifically designed to eliminate the hearing health care professional.

The critical question that has to be addressed when choosing this option is will the practice risk losing a potential patient for life along with the revenue dollars associated with that kind of loyalty by not providing a product that some patients may want?

That’s a tough question to answer. Maybe you know your patient base is loyal and you’re capable of dissuading them from the novelty of OTCs. This option may work well for you. However, if you prefer to go on this no-holds-barred route, please consider the short- and long-term ramifications carefully first.

All Aboard the OTC Train

On the other end of the spectrum are those that wish to include OTCs as part of their practice’s revenue stream. They are willing to utilize vetted products that providers are comfortable with. They determine price points and fees for service models that allow for profit.

Often this means they are creating a team-based approach to patient care and have artfully crafted the patient’s journey to loosely mirror the journey of patients who prefer to use prescription hearing aids. The caveat here is in assuring that no cannibalization of prescription hearing aid treatment plans occurs, which is a difficult task.

Those who jump onto the OTC train must also map the process for returns, repairs, managing overhead and making sure that all patient interaction is somehow monetized either from the profit from the sale of an OTC, a fee for service or a service plan.

Patients of these providers may feel like they’re being nickeled and dimed to death with lots of fees. And providers might get stuck paying for damaged OTCs if their return and repair policies aren’t clearly outlined and communicated to patients.

With that being said, this approach may work well for your practice as long as you consider all of the aspects carefully.

Stuck in the Middle

A more middle-of-the-road approach is to recommend that patients purchase vetted OTC products from a third party. Some practices have chosen to provide service plans that are associated with orientation and acclimation to these products, which patients will be responsible for paying for.

Another option is to recommend vetted OTC products, but patients are left to deal with and manage the product through the seller or the manufacturer’s customer service line. Some practices may find that even though patients purchased their own OTC product, they may become frustrated with its management, which sours the experience.

They may complain to the practice that recommended the product, which could result in a poor patient journey or even negative online reviews. On the other hand, if you’re able to communicate responsibility completely and without sounding negative, this approach might work well for you.

Like the other options, if you choose to take this approach to OTCs, you’ll need to do your homework.

How About Implementation?

Regardless of your chosen path, there are multiple implementation facets that need to be addressed. You’ll need to fully understand both the upstream and downstream consequences of providing a new product line. Perhaps introducing an entirely new patient journey into your practice requires careful consideration and effective communication with all who work at the practice. When making this decision, it helps to have a lot of experience. If you aren’t sure which approach is right for you and your practice, Fuel Medical is ready to help. We have valuable resources, such as the OTC manual and audiology experts, ready to help you look at each option in more detail. Contact your regional team today.

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