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Academy President Patrick Feeney, PhD, Discusses His Vision: Humanitarian Efforts, Ethics Guidelines, Translational Research, and More

Academy President Patrick Feeney, PhD, Discusses His Vision: Humanitarian Efforts, Ethics Guidelines, Translational Research, and More

September 11, 2008 Interviews

Interview with Patrick Feeney, PhD
President of the American Academy of Audiology
By: Douglas L. Beck, AuD
Board Certified in Audiology
Web Content Editor
American Academy of Audiology

September 11, 2008

Academy/Beck: Hi, Pat. Thanks for your time today.

Academy/Feeney: Hi, Doug. Nice to chat with you.

Academy/Beck: Pat, before we get into the Academy and your presidency, please tell us where and when you earned your doctorate, and what was your dissertation on?

Academy/Feeney: After practicing as an audiologist for seven years, I went back to school at the University of Washington to pursue the PhD, which I received 1993. My dissertation was on central auditory processing related to binaural beats, “Between-Channel Phase Perception in the Beats of Mistuned Consonances.”

Academy/Beck: And please tell me what's your current position at the university, and how long have you been there?

Academy/Feeney: I have been in my current position since 2002. I’m an associate professor and chief of audiology in the University of Washington Department of Otolaryngology, Head, and Neck Surgery. I direct audiology services at the University of Washington Medical Center and see patients during three clinics per week. I spend half my week in the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center. My lab is currently investigating the application of new technologies for the diagnosis of middle-ear disorders across the life span. I also teach a class in balance function assessment to AuD students in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington.

Academy/Beck: Okay, very good. Pat, I guess your term as president started July 1, 2008?

Academy/Feeney: Yes, that's right. The presidential terms follow the Academy’s fiscal year, July 1 to June 30.

Academy/Beck: Pat, please tell me about your priorities and the priorities of the Academy.

Academy/Feeney: Doug, my personal priorities involve enhancing the research agenda of the Academy and using the Academy’s resources to help organize humanitarian efforts regarding audiology, for which we currently have an Academy task force chaired by Bopanna Ballachanda.

In our July 2008 meeting, the board addressed our overall priorities and started to update our strategic plan, which charts the future direction of the Academy. The strategic plan targets various stakeholders. In July, we focused on two stakeholders, our members and audiologists in general. Our main goal for members is to promote a member-driven environment that fosters member involvement and provides services essential to their professional success. We (the Academy) want to be known as the primary information resource for our members. For our second stakeholder, audiologists, our goal is to shape the future of the science and practice of audiology through effective leadership and advocacy. That includes issues such as direct access, reimbursement, comprehensive education in the science, practice, and ethics of audiology; providing audiologic standards and guidelines and promoting autonomy and recognition of the profession through educational standards. In October we’ll focus on updating the goals for our other key stakeholders: Other organizations, industry, and the general public.

Regarding the research agenda, Doug, you probably know that at the AudiologyNOW!® 2009 in Dallas, the Academy will be offering the first annual translational research conference called the Academy Research Conference (ARC) and it will take place Wednesday, April 1, the day before AudiologyNOW! starts.

Academy/Beck: I just saw a marketing flyer about this new event…I know it's focused on otoacoustic emissions.

Academy/Feeney: That’s right. The actual theme is “Otoacoustic Emissions: Improving Practice Through Science.” We are honored to have Brenda Lonsbury-Martin as the conference chair and David Kemp, who discovered OAEs, as one of the conference faculty members.

This will be a wonderful opportunity to hear luminaries discuss the basic research and application of that research to the clinic. We are setting the bar high for a quality conference with ARC 2009 — and I'm excited we're kicking it off in Dallas. In addition to David Kemp, other featured presenters include Michael Gorga, John Guinan, Lynne Marshall, Beth Prieve, Chris Shera, and Jon Siegel.

Academy/Beck: Pat, you mentioned that the ARC involves "translational research." Isn't that more or less taking lab-based research and applying it to the patient?

Academy/Feeney: That's right. Translational research means taking laboratory-based work and bringing it to the clinic.

Academy/Beck: I know one of the major concerns as we've transitioned into a doctoring profession, much like dentists, physicians, and optometrists, has been to maintain the scientific foundation of our profession. As we have more and more professionals entering the profession we've seen an overall decrease in the quantity of researchers and scientists working toward their PhDs in audiology. Is that fair to say?

Academy/Feeney: Yes. Maintaining and building our research foundation is very important for audiology as a profession. We cannot rely on other professions to conduct our research for us. I have a student in my lab, Jessica Day, who completed her AuD and is now working on her PhD. She is very interested in translational research. I’ve heard from a number of colleagues who are mentoring recent AuD graduates who are continuing on for their PhD. This is a wonderful trend we need to encourage. By the way, this issue will be addressed at a meeting facilitated by the Academy on January 12-14, 2009, Gold Standards Summit 2009: Transforming Clinical Education in Audiology, in Orlando, Florida.

I'm hopeful the ARC conference and the focus on translational research will help inspire and initiate academic and scientific pursuits beyond our clinical interests. So the bottom line is we need to make sure that we maintain our hard-science foundation as we train our clinicians to take care of patients. And in that respect translational research serves the profession and our patients very well.

Academy/Beck: Pat, you mentioned direct access a moment ago. Please define "direct access" and the implications related to direct access.

Academy/Feeney: Sure, Doug. In our context, “direct access” refers to Medicare beneficiaries having direct access to an audiologist for a hearing evaluation without a referral from their physician. The Medicare Hearing Health Care Enhancement Act of 2007 (H.R. 1665, S. 2352) was introduced by Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR) in the House of Representatives and Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) in the Senate. There are 102 cosponsors on H.R. 1665 in the 110th Congress, which ends on January 3, 2009. The Academy has been successful in doubling the number of cosponsors on this bill compared to the last Congress and we’re hopeful that momentum will carry us to passage in the 111th Congress. It is critical for Academy members to petition their members of congress to support this legislation.

Academy/Beck: One thing that's always amazed me, is that Medicare participants need a referral from their physician to get audiology services, but our men and women in the military have direct access to audiology, as do our congressmen and senators.

Academy/Feeney: Yes, we’ve been emphasizing this point as we discuss the bill with members of congress. It certainly creates an unnecessary barrier to hearing health care to require seniors to make multiple trips to multiple providers to obtain a hearing evaluation.

Academy/Beck: So, Pat, back to your term as president…you are the first president elected by the Board of Directors, rather than the full membership. How did this change come about and why?

Academy/Feeney: Doug, the Academy’s current governance model with the president elected from and by the Board of Directors was first recommended by an Academy Governance Task Force 10 years ago. This approach, which is often found in professional membership organizations, was recommended in recognition that with the increasing complexities of the Academy’s strategic plan and national office functioning, we must elect presidents with demonstrated leadership skills and working knowledge of current board activities and goals.

The recommendation was sustained by several subsequent task forces and finally approved unanimously by the board as a change in the Academy bylaws in January 2005 stating that “the president-elect shall be nominated from among existing or former board members and shall be elected by a majority of the Board of Directors.” Board members are elected by the full membership.

This change from electing the president by the membership was implemented in July 2006. The board cited the following rationale for the change:

Many members do not know or do not have access to knowledge about the leadership qualifications of candidates running for president-elect. In addition, the election of the president-elect by the membership creates an annual opportunity for at least one Academy leader/contributor to lose the election. A strategy to eliminate these problems is to have the Board of Directors elect the president-elect from among the elected board members. In addition to other advantages, this would clarify lines of accountability so that all elected board members would be accountable to the membership equally, and the presidents would be accountable to the board.

For more information see the following article from the Board of Directors, “Presidential Elections in the American Academy of Audiology: An Evolution,” Audiology Today Jan/Feb 06. Gail Whitelaw also discusses the change in her President's Message on pgs 7-8 of the same issue.

Academy/Beck: Thanks, Pat. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, but that really is an important issue for many Academy members. One other "hot topic" right now is the proposed revision of the Academy's ethics guidelines. Frankly, I've never seen so many people involved in an online discussion, as I have with this one. Why do we need to revisit the Academy’s ethics guidelines, and what's your opinion on doing this?

Academy/Feeney: Doug, first of all, I’m glad that members are interested in Academy governance issues. As the first Academy president elected by the board, I am honored to be a part of Academy history and will do everything in my power to ensure that this new vision of Academy governance is successful.

Regarding ethics, we’ve had a great deal of member input on the ethics listserv set up for feedback on the “Proposed Ethical Practice Policy on Financial Incentives from Industry,” developed by the Ethical Practices Committee (EPC). In addition to their role in educating members about ethics, the EPC is charged with the responsibility of conducting periodic review and update of the Academy’s Code of Ethics, guidelines, policies, and advisory opinions clarifying ethics principles and rules. The reason that continuing review and possible change is needed is that both internal changes (the way audiologists view themselves) and external changes (the way the world views audiologists) occur with regard to ethics over time. It would be inappropriate for the Academy (which seeks to be essential in the professional lives of audiologists) to be unaware of the changing face of health care and the audiologist’s place in it. However, the Academy also has a role to educate its members to understand these changes and to help members adjust to them.

Academy/Beck: Pat, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Academy/Feeney: Thanks, Doug. I'm glad to be able to speak with you to relay this information to the membership. In fact, for any Academy member who'd like to contact me directly, he or she can feel free to send me an email.

Academy/Beck: Thanks, Pat.

Academy/Feeney: You're welcome, Doug.

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