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Samuel Bittel, AuD

Samuel Bittel, AuD

Member-at-Large

Audiologist, Hearing and Balance Specialists of Kansas City

Education
BS: Psychology, Fort Hays State University, 2001
BA: Sociology, Fort Hays State University, 2002
AuD: Audiology, Nova Southeastern University, 2008

Why are you interested in serving on the Academy board?

Audiology needs people who are passionate about keeping our profession viable and forward moving through active involvement in our professional organizations. It is imperative that the Academy engage young private practitioners who are highly motivated to drive audiology forward. This is vital as we consider the challenges that our profession will face in the forthcoming years (from OTC hearing aids and third-party reimbursement to direct access and professional organization unification). Those of us with a lot of skin in the game and a vision for the future of our profession must be actively involved.

I feel that I fit the mold of what our profession and the board need. I am highly motivated to help steer audiology in a direction that benefits audiologists and the patients we serve first. The time to rest on our laurels has passed. We have settled for low salaries and reimbursement, physician referral requirements, fragmentation amongst our professional organizations, questionable educational standards, and an underappreciation/misunderstanding of our services from the medical community and the public for long enough. The Academy needs a passionate board now, as our profession often seems reactionary and not proactive. It is time to aim high, and I am ready for the responsibility.

I have done all that I can through state-level involvement and want to dedicate my energies to audiology at the national level. Audiology is my passion and I want to do all that I can to better our profession.

What challenges or key issues do you see for the audiology profession in the next five years? What would you hope to accomplish relative to these challenges during your term on the board?

OTC hearing aids and third-party reimbursement: Although there are many barriers to hearing aid adoption, the cost has been put to the forefront through recent OTC rulings. We must consider what patient-specific forces are causal and how we position our practices to be profitable. Unfortunately, the history of dispensing (and those allowed to dispense) has put us in a position where many audiologists have adopted a retail sales model, which is not viable. If you center your business and profession around selling/marketing a product and that product changes or goes away, it will be problematic.

The Academy must adopt a strong position statement directly addressing unbundling of services and greater transparency. We cannot practice and market like hearing aid salespeople if we want consumers, the medical community, and insurance companies to understand and respect what we do. Audiologists need to itemize their services and separate our fees from the product; if not, how can you expect anyone to understand how and what you bring to the table? The Academy needs to use strong language that practitioners not following this model are not aligned with best practices and the Academy’s vision.

Audiologists must stay independent and not sign insurance contracts that jeopardize their practices. If we have more patients, we will not be put in a position where we must sign detrimental contracts to stay in business. We need a unified push to stress the importance of our services outside of selling a device. The future of our profession appears to be greater patient volume at a lower revenue per patient, which will be imperative for practicing audiologists to understand. The Academy needs to continue its push in educating audiologists on these factors.

Audiology education: There are too many AuD programs, which has caused a large variation in clinical experience, academic standards, and philosophical message. For our profession to achieve its goals, it will be imperative to have consistent and high academic expectations and greater oversight. If we argue that audiologists should be the entry point for hearing and vestibular care, our training must reflect this goal. With fewer and larger programs, we can ensure a better and more consistent training experience. A background in the basic sciences should be stressed and reinforced in the training experience. It may also be prudent to consider an audiology-specific entry test for admission. The Academy needs to continue its look at the accreditation process, the number, and quality of existing programs, and refine its vision related to how the educational process should evolve.

Unified political front: Audiology’s professional organizations need to align their political messages and create a cohesive lobbying front. We need unified legislation. As a small field, we must pool our financial resources if we are to take on larger organizations like the AMA and AAO. United we might have a chance, while divided our message becomes diluted and confusing. AAA must come to the table with ASHA and ADA, so as a profession we can pool resources and create a unified message.

What experience do you have in the planning, evaluation, and implementation of a strategic plan?

I am an owner in a private audiology practice, which was an organic startup. That is, we started our practice from scratch. This not only required a significant amount of planning and vision but also a push to follow through on our initial strategic plan. It is a challenging time to start a new practice; however, with an understanding of audiology and its future, we have been very successful. Our initial concept involved stressing service over product, the unique skill set that audiology provides (we have vestibular, tinnitus, auditory processing, and amplification specialists), fostering strong health-care relationships (through engagement of hospital medical staffs, medical education, and physician relationships), and offering a truly transparent unbundled approach. We also set a low cost and high revenue per square foot and support staff target, which has worked. Each of these details was strategically planned over several years (even prior to starting our practice). This initial strategic planning was undertaken with a significant amount of thought. Furthermore, we have refined and focused on how our plans are working and can be improved.

List any experience in financial management. Describe your experience in developing and implementing a budget for practice, business, department, or organization?

As a practice owner, financial management is of great importance. Prior to opening our doors, I created comprehensive financial projections and targets. Our practice has a detailed budget, which as owners, we are responsible for creating, monitoring, and refining. We are completely unbundled, which required detail budgeting and understanding of our operational costs, revenue projections, and hourly rate. I am a vestibular specialist, so budgeting for insurance reimbursement and planning accordingly has also been a significant part of my business.

From the list below, select three competencies you feel best to represent your leadership strengths.

Commitment, Decision-making, Problem Solving

Based on the three competencies selected above, comment on how you feel these qualities would positively affect your ability to serve on the Academy board.

Commitment: I am a passionate and committed audiologist. I feel a strong commitment to the field of audiology and its future. This drives me to practice audiology in the right way, as I truly feel this will better our profession. I will not back down from a fight if it means bettering our profession. I am willing to make hard choices and put in as much work as needed if that is what it takes to ensure a positive future for audiology. I plan on being a member of the audiology community for the rest of my life, so I am deeply committed to moving our field forward in a way that proves beneficial to audiologists and our patients. My commitment to audiology and the Academy will ensure my hard work, respect for how my decisions might impact our profession, and my tireless dedication to tackling the big issues that face us.

Decision-making: I am able and willing to make hard decisions. I pride myself on taking due diligence and researching the implications of my decisions, which helps me make what I consider good choices. I am committed to our field and its future, which will help the decisions I make as a board member. It is important for our board to have a strong voice with a clear message, so having board members with the ability to make difficult decisions is imperative. Not only must decisions be made, but the logic behind these decisions should be clearly voiced to other board members and the Academy membership.

Problem-solving: A passion for addressing, tackling, and solving difficult problems is something that defines me as a person. I understand the issues facing audiology (many of which have affected me first hand), which gives me a solid foundation in finding solutions. For a problem to be solved, an individual must be committed (particularly for challenging issues, as these decisions can be uncomfortable or complex) and a strong decision maker (as decisions must be made for a problem to be solved). For our field to move forward, we need to understand the problems and hurdles we face and make pointed decisions to address these issues.