How many independent, autonomous hearing care practices exist in the U.S.?
That's a good question. The number can be estimated from a number of sources. In 2004, I looked at this question, and drew upon a number of publicly-available sources. At that time, I estimated that approximately 46% of 2004's non-Veteran's Administration (VA) U.S. hearing care outlets (i.e., clinics, hospitals, universities, private practices, dispensing outlets, etc.) were independently owned, autonomous in their decision-making and unaffiliated with a larger corporate business entity. This totaled approximately 5,060 clinics, as the total number of practices at that time was estimated to be 11,000. I also noted an emerging trend of corporations buying and managing hearing care practices, and predicted that the number of unaffiliated practices could shrink to as little as 22% of the non-VA market by 2010 if the trend continued.
In 2011, I analyzed the numbers again to see if my prediction was accurate (Smriga, 2011). I found the total number of practices to now be at approximately 12,000, and sure enough, estimated that the number of independent, autonomous practices that are not affiliated with a larger corporate entity to be 23% (or approximately 2,760 locations).
The corporatization of audiology practices can have a very negative impact on audiologists' income potential, their career opportunities, and as importantly, the public's perception of hearing care and audiology services.
However, securing nationwide consumer recognition and "demand" for audiology care can certainly be a powerful foundation upon which audiology's future can be nurtured, and is arguably a necessary environment in order for audiology's autonomy to be re-established. This can only happen if audiology: 1) commits to competing at the commercial level for the minds and hearts of America's hearing and balance patients, and 2) delivers a patient care experience that is second to none. Audiology-focused group purchasing (like AuDNet, Inc.) that uses group-purchasing revenue to nationally market and promote audiology care, and that can underwrite audiology-favorable political and legislative action, can accomplish the first. Each individual audiology practitioner must take responsibility to accomplish the second.
Smriga, D. (2004). Are we asleep at the wheel? The delicate future of audiology private practice in America. Feedback (the official publication of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology), 15(4), 7-15.
Smriga, D. (2011). Are we (still) asleep at the wheel? An update from seven years ago. AudiologyOnline, Article #2387. Retrieved September 15, 2011 from the Articles Archive on www.audiologyonline.com
David J. Smriga is founder and President of AuDNet, Inc., a nationwide audiology marketing and media engagement organization funded through the group purchasing power of the audiology community. Mr. Smriga has been a tireless advocate for building stronger consumer recognition and demand for audiology care both locally and nationally. Through his articles and lectures, Mr. Smriga continues to engage the audiology community and the general public, seeking to make audiology care the first thing American's think of when seeking hearing or balance care.
For more information about AuDNet, visit the AuDNet web channel on AudiologyOnline.