By Bonnie O’Leary, 7/5/11
I was so pleased to see that EARtrak took an exhibit at the HLAA convention this year and provided a short program in the Demo Room about their services. (There is a personal back story I would like to share about EARtrak at the end of my report.) I spoke with their Director, Neil Clutterbuck and his wife Sue, who is Vice President of Research and Clinic Studies.
Neil and Sue are both audiologists from Melbourne, Australia – talk about a long flight to Washington! Neil has served as President of the Australian Association of Audiologists in Private Practice, and is on the International Committee of the American Academy of Audiology. Susan founded Gippsland Audiology Services in 1983, and Neil serves as its Director. Their clinic has a main office and two satellite offices outside of Melbourne.
Neil and Sue founded EARtrak in 2005 as an independent system for measuring consumer opinion about the effectiveness of hearing care. The company’s mission is “giving consumers a voice in advancing standards of hearing aid care.” They believe that the skill and professionalism of the audiologist plays the largest part in the successful outcome of hearing aid use, and so their system tracks the success rates of audiology practices. Currently, EARtrak has expanded to New Zealand and Germany, and the hope is the system will become popular here in the U.S.
Here’s how it works: Through a survey, EARtrak collects the opinions of those who have experienced the purchase and wear of hearing aids from professional dispensers. These opinions form the basis for EARtrak’s rating of the performance of audiology clinics.
If you want to share your opinion about your hearing aids and the clinic where you were served, you can complete an online survey at www.eartrak.com or you can print a copy from the website, fill it in, and send it to HLAA, 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1200, Bethesda, MD. 20814. Many visitors to the EARtrak exhibit picked up surveys to fill in for HLAA and expressed a keen interest in being able to let someone know about their hearing aid experiences.
The results of the surveys are then posted to the EARtrak website, where the clinics receive a rating of 1 to 5 stars. Consumers can then select a clinic based on the reported satisfaction of other hearing aid wearers.
At NVRC, we get many calls throughout the year from people who are losing their hearing and want to know where to find a good audiologist. EARtrak’s goal is to become the online resource to help find that good audiologist. Visitors to the EARtrak exhibit at the HLAA conference expressed excitement about the concept and hoped that it would catch on here in the States.
I attended Sue Clutterbuck’s demo, “Consumer Driven Improvement in Hearing Care: a New Approach”. Sue cited the 2009 Consumer Reports article about hearing aids, and a 2010 MarkeTrak VIII study on the impact of the hearing care professional with a quote from MarkeTrak’s Founder, Sergei Kochkin: “Data from this study suggest that quality control at the point of dispensing has not kept pace with the industry’s rapid technological improvements.”
EARtrak (which was inspired by Sergei Kochkin’s MarkeTrak) was founded to rate the quality of the services provided by the dispensers. Everyone attending the demo had to fill in the two-part survey. The first part was personal information about ourselves, and the second was the customer satisfaction portion. These surveys would then be sent to HLAA, where they would then be forwarded to EARtrak to enter the results in the EARtrak database.
To demonstrate how EARtrak works, Sue asked us to pretend that we were all patients of ABC Clinic, and that all of our surveys were for that Clinic. EARtrak would log our opinions into their database, then generate a report for ABC Clinic, comparing their performance against a benchmark group, and assign a rating of up to 5 stars. The Clinic would then be able to see how well they are doing, where their problems are, and what they need to do to fix them and become a better clinic. The quality accreditation ratings are: Independent audit of service quality, continuing commitment to quality improvement, patient satisfaction with hearing improvement, patient satisfaction with device performance, and patient satisfaction with service delivery.
The ultimate goal is that consumers seeking hearing care will be able to access EARtrak independent performance ratings when choosing a service. Clinics will work harder to maintain high star ratings to attract and retain patients. Consumers will receive more effective hearing services. In addition, manufacturers will see enhanced dispensing performance from their devices, and consumer organizations will have access to a large informational database when lobbying for improvements in hearing care. And finally, improved community confidence in the effectiveness of hearing devices will improve the uptake of hearing care.
Neil, Bonnie and Sue
And now the back story….in 2005, I participated in an e-interview with a journalist from The Washington Post who was doing an article about hearing aids. That issue of The Washington Post ended up in Neil and Sue’s office at Gippsland Audiology Services, their clinic. After reading the article, Neil contacted me by email to introduce himself and their new company, EARtrak, and an e-friendship developed over the next several months. When Neil came to the States in 2006 for a conference, I brought him to NVRC, and he met the staff at an informal dinner gathering so we could talk about our Resource Center, hearing loss issues in general, and EARtrak in particular. During the past 6 years we have stayed in touch, but I don’t get to Australia, and their return visits to the States have been to conventions on the other side of the country. It was wonderful to see Neil again, to finally meet Sue, and to enjoy a 4-hour dinner with them at the Chesapeake Grill on the last night of the conference. Here we are in the photo Neil, me and Sue!)