A Discussion with Sycle CEO Ridge Sampson: Sycle PRO & His Thoughts on Our Changing Industry
AudiologyOnline: It’s great to sit down with you, Ridge. We’re excited to hear what’s new with Sycle PRO and what the company has in store. How has 2019 been so far?
Ridge Sampson: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. The year has been great. Sycle PRO has seen a lot of change in recent months and a lot of what we’re focusing on are mission-driven initiatives that will help independent audiologists compete and grow as we continue to see the industry change. Our mission is clear: to facilitate the delivery of better hearing to the world. We’re partnering with like-minded companies to help us along the way. AUDMA, for example, is helping Sycle customers implement turnkey marketing automation programs. We’re working with several partners to offer online appointment booking and patient reviews. These partnerships have been a huge success.
AudiologyOnline: I’d like to hear more about PRO because the industry is talking. How has the new product been received?
Ridge Sampson: Overall, we’re very happy with Sycle PRO and how it has been received. And you’re right, there were some mixed reviews that still need to be addressed. For a lot of users, change can be difficult. Some users of our classic Sycle product had a tough learning curve, and that’s something we did not anticipate but we’re working closely with these customers to ensure they have a successful onboarding. In many ways building PRO has been hard because we have to include every feature our current customers are accustomed to in addition to all the new features. We’re committed to ironing out all the issues.
We’ve also been the target of some bad PR and social media. Some of it is legitimate and we have worked double-time to iron out any frustrations our customers have had, many of which have to do with change management and training. Some of the PR we have received is simply untrue and that’s why we’re excited to get Sycle PRO in front of more people now - because as soon as they see it and use it, they quickly understand that a lot of the chatter out there is noise.
Despite the hiccups we faced, Sycle PRO stands head and shoulders above other systems on the market. Take security alone. We pour more resources into developing security than any of our competitors and that’s important to our customers and their patients. Just think about all the data breaches we hear about in the news. HIPAA is a big thing and it is on our customers’ minds. Not everyone is HIPAA compliant. We audit log, encrypt our data at rest, have regular penetration tests by third parties and much more. In fact, Cochlear has invested an enormous amount of money in a state of the art disaster recovery system.
We don’t want to be just a patient database system and Sycle PRO proves that. We’ve been doing this for 18 years and we are in it for the long term.. And lucky for us we have the team in place and the experience needed to get feedback from customers that matters and implement change. We’ve built a not of new features that help drive business and help practices compete. Again, it’s about automating processes for the providers. We feel for the independent practice owners and understand the position they are in. They’re getting squeezed by third-party payers and escalating patient acquisition costs. We’re here to help and look forward to driving more appointments to their schedules.
AudiologyOnline: You have been doing this for some time and witnessed a lot of change in the industry. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in recent years?
Ridge Sampson: The landscape is changing dramatically. First and foremost, managed care & third party dealers are gobbling up a lot of market share and making it incredibly difficult for independent audiologists to keep their doors open. It’s one thing to give up, say, 5% of your business but now we see some practices servicing 40% or more in managed care. That’s not sustainable.
Of course, we’re seeing a lot of consolidation too, which is a direct result of managed care. And we all know that over-the-counter technology is coming soon.
I don’t want to sound negative. Change isn’t always bad. There are still plenty of opportunities for growth and we see our customers doing a lot to adapt and differentiate.
AudiologyOnline: What are Sycle customers saying about these changes?
Ridge Sampson: Managed care is really hurting them. And to be honest, we hear from customers and they are frustrated and not sure where to turn.
As more and more independent audiologists and hearing aid specialists close up shop, there will be fewer and fewer points of distribution and patients will have a harder time accessing the treatment they need. The independent practices are an important part of the hearing healthcare ecosystem and we’re focused on helping them.
AudiologyOnline: What do you think independent audiologists can do to combat these challenges?
Ridge Sampson: For one, look for ways to lower their cost of patient acquisition. Today it costs a practice about $450 just to get a prospective patient through the door. How can we improve that process and lower the marketing cost?
One of Sycle’s latest initiatives, Sycle Sales Gen, is designed to do just that. We’ve partnered with companies that market nationally to individuals suffering from hearing loss. Many of these individuals would greatly benefit from hearing aids. Those prospects are funneled into our call center, we’ve partnered with CallSource, where trained operators further qualify them and then book their appointments in participating Sycle customers’ clinics. When the clinic completes the appointment they are charged a $250 marketing fee. If the patient cancels or doesn’t show up the clinic pays nothing.
We’re starting at $250, which is very low and we hope to keep it there. Time will tell but we want to help our customers. There will soon be over 8,000 locations on Sycle in the US. Any practice that participates in Sales Gen will help keep the cost down, as we’ll be able to service almost any lead we get with this massive footprint.
There’s another big opportunity in the cochlear implant space. This year there will be nearly 20,000 cochlear implants. 70% of those implanted will be bimodal, meaning they’ll continue to need a hearing aid on one ear. In partnership with Cochlear, we’ve launched the Continuum of Care Initiative to build awareness around implant candidacy and technology. There are services provided to help traditional hearing aid practices partner with surgeons in their area so they can help support cochlear implant recipients. The clinics benefit by retaining the patient and continuing to sell them a hearing aid for their other ear. The clinics are also benefiting by being able to differentiate their practice and offer more services.
In the last few months, new studies have come out showing that patient satisfaction increases 500% with one implant and one hearing aid for patients with severe loss. Satisfaction with hearing on the telephone goes way up and speech discrimination scores go way up.
Thirdly, audiologists today need to know where their business stands. They need to have a reporting system in place to provide data so they can make strategic decisions. Again, Sycle has been doing this for 18 years. We pioneered cloud-based practice management software in hearing healthcare, which is something we’re very proud of. We’re providing Business Intelligence reports right in Sycle. Graphical dashboards so you can see how your practice is doing quickly and easily.
Sycle PRO takes it a step further. We’ve built an all-new physician report builder that’s absolutely incredible. We’ve also completely refactored our eClaims system to help all practices submit insurance claims easily and correctly - the first time. We’re seeing claims being paid in days. This helps with cash flow and actually getting reimbursed for services provided.
The more busy work we can take off the providers’ plates, the more time they can spend with patients. That’s the ultimate goal.
AudiologyOnline: You mentioned the opportunity that cochlear implants provide. That’s very interesting. It’s been two years since Cochlear acquired Sycle. How are things going with the partnership?
Ridge Sampson: Our partnership with Cochlear is fantastic. You know, it can always be a bit scary when one company acquires another but Cochlear’s mission is so inline with our own that we immediately felt a synergy.
We’ve worked with them a ton over the past two years to integrate features into Sycle to support the counseling of implant candidates. The Continuum of Care Initiative is brand agnostic. It’s not about getting more patients Cochlear branded implants. It’s about getting the right patients implanted with whichever device they choose in partnership with their surgeon. And that’s truly where the decision is made.
AudiologyOnline: Well it’s clear Sycle continues to help both your customers and their patients. Very exciting times for everyone. Thanks for taking the time to chat with Audiology Online.
Ridge Sampson: No, thank you. Exciting times indeed and the next two quarters are going to be some of the best for Sycle PRO and our customers.