Interview with Jerry Ruzicka, President, Starkey Hearing Technologies
AudiologyOnline: Jerry, thanks for your time today. We're discussing Starkey Hearing Technologies' Hearing Innovation Expo, held in January in Las Vegas, which featured leading presenters and renowned keynote speakers, and had more than 3,000 attendees. What was Starkey's goal in hosting this Expo?
JERRY RUZICKA: Our goal was to conduct a professional meeting that wasn't about a product, but would focus on trying to understand the patient journey as it exists today. We also wanted to look at what we might be doing in the future to help improve and influence the patient journey.
If you look at the content of the program, it was very much focused on what's happening in the world of research, as well as what's happening in the world of marketing including social marketing for the future. It also considered the world of business management and how might business change in the future. We also had a concept office set up, which was designed to take some of the ideas discussed in the program and implement them into a practice, so that we could get people's opinions of them and generate discussion. In addition to the program, we had Sir Richard Branson, former President Clinton, and other provocative speakers, who also contributed to making the Expo an international success.
AudiologyOnline: I heard some attendees remark that it was the best professional conference they ever attended. Can you share the feedback you received from the attendees?
RUZICKA: Well, everything we heard was consistent with that. We've been flooded with emails, phone calls and Tweets and people just reaching out to us in a variety of ways to tell us how much they enjoyed the program. We also keep hearing, "When are you going to do it again?" which obviously tells us that we kind of hit a home run here. The Expo planning took up the better part of a year, and the reality is that nothing like this has ever been done before. I think the audience was very surprised by the magnitude of it as well as the quality of the content.
We had representatives there from 28 countries, and no matter where you were from there was something of significant value to take back home to your practice. I heard about people who said, "I've been really kind of down about this business and now I'm reenergized. I'm refocused. I can hardly wait to get home to put some of these things into practice."
The feedback was extremely positive. Whenever we do something like this we do a postmortem to say, "What should we have done differently or what could we have done better?" And in this case, we were somewhat struggling to find anything that we would have changed.
AudiologyOnline: 3,000+ attendees is a significant percentage of the profession, and therefore the Expo could have a large potential impact. In addition to energizing professionals, do you see the Expo as having a further impact on the industry?
RUZICKA: One of the things that we wanted to do is show the innovative side of Starkey Hearing Technologies. And innovation doesn't only exist in products, although people sort of look for it there. Innovation really exists in a variety of ways.
One of the things that we did at the Expo, which is something we do internally, is that we conducted what we call Spark Talks. Spark Talks are 12 to 15 minute quick discussions that are meant to be provocative in order to get people to open their minds and answer the question, "What if...?" For example, "What if the industry changed? What if we did this differently? What if the patient in the future was looking for something different?" In these presentations, the audience wasn't sitting there looking at a PowerPoint presentation;they were engaged and somewhat electrified by the discussion, because they had a chance to hear something that was somewhat quick-hitting. It gave them an opportunity to think about something that they were presented with in their normal day-to-day routines and really opened their minds as to what some of the possibilities are in the future.
As I mentioned, this is an exercise we often conduct internally that we thought would be beneficial for professionals. Many of the 3,000 attendees indicated that they had thought about an idea or ideas from the Expo and as a result were going to make changes in an area of their business. We're looking to continue that and support people in their personal initiatives to help them grow their business. If they can grow their business and if they can serve their patient better today than they could yesterday, then we think we can all have a bright future. And that was one of the underlying themes of the Expo.
AudiologyOnline: Can you give an overview of the concept office?
RUZICKA: Sure. If you look at best practices around the world and you put them all together, you saw elements of that in the concept office. The concept office included some things that are already being done in hearing care practices, and some things that were meant to be thought provoking or to stimulate new ideas. The concept office looks at all aspects of the patient experience, from what happens when they walk in the door. It even includes how they book an appointment. What kind of an experience can we give them or provide to them? Those questions were behind the overall design, because when we look at the concept office, it's not only about the bricks and mortar, the paint and the artwork. It's about the whole experience that happens while that patient is there, starting in the waiting room.
We also introduced something that we call the audio test pod to replace the sound room in terms of how might hearing be tested in the future. The diagnostic routine used to evaluate the patient's hearing loss was unlike anything that's done with an audiometer today, and was intended to say the patient in the future is going to be looking for something different. They're going to want to be engaged and stimulated, and they're going to want to have more fun with the diagnostic process. The audio test pod and the test routine in the concept office were intended to do that.
From there we showed digital ear scanning. For many years, we heard people in the industry say that direct digital ear scanning is five years away. We invited a company called Lantos Technologies to participate in the Expo, because Lantos has what we believe to be a viable product for direct digital ear scanning that will be on the market later this year. It will result in a very comfortable digital ear scan. I think people were somewhat stunned to see that this technology is no longer five years away.
We also looked at telehealth in our concept office, as well as counseling. We believe counseling is an important ingredient to a successful patient journey that has been somewhat overlooked.
Again, our concept office was really about what we can do to enhance the patient experience. What can we do so that when they walk away they feel that they received the quality of care that they expect and that they may not be receiving today, and certainly that they can't obtain via the Internet.
AudiologyOnline: You mention the patient of the future, and with the baby boomers, one could argue that the future is now. They have different needs and expectations of all of their healthcare providers. The whole patient experience is important today and will only become more important in the future, and it was great to see all the ideas that the concept office put forth.
RUZICKA: Exactly. In addition to showcasing innovation, our goal with the Expo was to provide valuable content and broad participation, not only among attendees but also among presenters. If you look at the wide range of speakers that we had, I don't think that there has been a roster of talent ever assembled like this before. Whether you were coming from a clinical background or you're an expert in business and business processes, or social media, there was something for every aspect of what our customers touch and feel and experience today.
I'm most proud of the fact that we had something for everyone. I had a number of people who said, "I brought my office manager to this event and had them attend specific sessions. And they were absolutely stunned by how valuable it was." That tells us that we hit the mark that we were aiming for and it's something that we hope to build upon in the future.
I think this was also the first program in our industry where Twitter was being actively used throughout the event to comment on the program while it was happening. We invited people to comment, ask questions and start discussions. Typically, with an event like this you would send follow up surveys out after the event to get feedback. In this case, we had real-time feedback via the participation on Twitter, Facebook and by people texting us comments and questions. We were prepared to address any issues on the spot if need be, and it also added a fun new element to the event.
AudiologyOnline: It was definitely a lot of fun connecting over Twitter, and made the event seem much more intimate, even though there were 3,000+ attendees.
Jerry, thank you again for your time, it's been great catching up about the Expo.
RUZICKA: Thanks for having me.
For more information please visit www.starkey.com or the Starkey Web Channel on AudiologyOnline.