According to CDC, hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States. It is twice as prevalent as diabetes or cancer. About 40 million Americans ages 20 to 69 have hearing loss in one or both ears. This hearing loss may be due to age, noise exposure, genetics, or other medical issues. Studies have shown that untreated hearing loss can be associated with increased risk of social isolation, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and stress. Additionally, absent fromreceiving the right care for hearing loss, other co-morbidities can arise, complicating the whole health of an individual.
Along with medical conditions, loss of hearing can create daily obstacles in enjoying day-to-day activities. Individuals with hearing loss report communication breakdowns, reduced awareness and training by health care providers and decreased satisfaction while struggling with inadequate health literacy. These all contribute to health inequities and increased healthcare expenditures and inefficiencies. It is time to reframe the healthcare system for these individuals using existing models of best practices and accessibility to mitigate inequities and improve the quality of care.
Birdsong Hearing Benefits™ is located in Jacksonville, FL. Birdsong provides supplemental hearing benefits to commercial health plans, Medicare Advantage, and other governmental programs. Birdsong delivers a nationwide network of hearing care professionals through Your Hearing Network. In addition, Birdsong is and umbrella of multiple establishedsubsidiaries in each their focus market that include Advanced Hearing Providers, a workers’ compensation organization headquartered in Portland, Ore., AudioNet America, a third-party administrator located in Clinton Township, Mich., and Great Lakes Provider Network as well as Your Hearing Network.
Birdsong contracts with health plans as a licensed TPA (Third Party Administrator) to service their members and give access to a nationwide NCQA-accredited provider network and market-leading hearing aid brands. Member experience is a crucial concern and opportunity in hearing benefits – There is a clear need for concierge service and white glove experience for members. The reason for the need for high touch care? The hearing care journey is a lifetime commitment; with so many different levels of technology to select from to understand how to care for one’s hearing needs continually- this requires a personalized, caring hand to guide members of a health plan through their hearing care journey to work with them to eliminate any obstacles in their journey. Birdsong is designed and built purposefully to optimize the member experience.
Designed for Benefits
Birdsong Hearing Benefits was explicitly designed with health plans and their members in mind. “We were fortunate to be able to build Birdsong from the ground up, organically, which gave us the opportunity to design our systems and processes through the voice of health plans, providers, and the end userto ensure compliance and IT security were top of mind,” says Sharon L. Fletcher, President & CEO of Birdsong, a hearing aid user- she knows the value of a quality care journey herself!
Sharon is armed with deep and unique executive experience in the Healthcare sector, having worked within all vantage points- the provider, payer, MSO, and technology side of healthcare- and has demonstrated the same approach and results in industries ranging from technology to consulting, and even airlines. With over 18 years of managed care experience, she has served as the President of Fluent Health, a technology-enabled application platform designed to deliver cost-effective value to the healthcare sector. Birdsong’s level of ambition is very high, and Sharon embodies that in her astute leadership capabilities.
Birdsong is constructed as a FDR (First-tier, Downstream, and Related entity) to specifically accommodate CMS governance and requirements for the Medicare Advantage line of business. All personal data, be it PHI (Protected Health Information), PPI, or PCI, are handled according to best practices in the industry to the highest security standards and follow standards for SOC2 and HITRUST certifications. By design, security protocols were built from scratch within the architecture.
Birdsong Hearing Benefits is built from a thoughtful and thorough strategic business plan focused on customer needs and demands, intending to optimize the customer experience. The development of this hearing benefit manager evolved through the understanding of the pressure health plans face and the requirement to keep the members engaged. “Our strategy is simple- to serve as an extension of the health plan and serve their members through a seamless experience,” adds Sharon. “Birdsong keeps ahead of the competition by being innovative and health plan minded, incorporating a thorough understanding of health plan priorities and value.” Birdsong is built by a team of healthcare professionals incorporating years of expertise from the health plan side and systems and bringing years of hearing experience.
Created to Help
The company looks at hearing differently and works with health plans to bridge hearing with other comorbidities. That is a bridge that has yet to be built, much less walked across. The hearing space has yet to be looked at like this before. Hearing loss can hurt a person’s whole health. If left untreated, hearing loss is associated with 46 percent higher total healthcare costs over ten years. By focusing on the members and engaging in proactive outreach and care management, Birdsongincreases the likelihood of them addressing their hearing impairment.
Proactively addressing hearing health among patients can reduce the risk of comorbidities, which can positively impact the cost of care and improve MLR. When a patient or member directly contacts Birdsong, they connect with a highly trained customer service representative who exudes quality and will care for and guide the member through the journey. They ensure that they receive the best, highest level of customer care.
There is also a significant potential impact on star ratings. By rendering best-in-class customer experience, members are more likely to rate higher in customer service, ease of getting appointments, and care coordination measures when taking a CAHPS (Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers & Systems) survey. An improvement in the quality of the service is reflected in the resulting measure, impacting on the health plan’s Star ratings. Stars are important because they reflect the plan’s quality, and it has a very high financial impact on the plan because there is a bonus payment from CMS to plans with four plus Stars. There are specific measures considered in Stars where a well-managed hearingbenefit can have a significant impact on the plan because of the quality of our service.
Building A Great Future
Birdsong Hearing Benefits is embracing a new way of presenting as a hearing benefit manager innovatively to raise the bar of member experience. The hearing care industry is still defined by the stigma – no one wants to appreciate the need for hearing aids. Birdsong seeks to render a member experience that breaks the stigma by improved engagement and member outreachand a venue of education to hold the patients’ hand in often unknown territory.
Birdsong is constantly evolving and testing the status quo. Their commitment is to continue pushing the best-in-class hearing benefit solutions and have multiple quality measures in the works. Specifically, Birdsong is finalizing the concept of the Hearing Health Intelligence PlatformTM, which is the underlying data and analytics platform to identify increased risk in members having a hearing impairment, as well as stratify the risk of developing comorbidities if left untreated.
“While we will always look to add providers where health plan members reside, Birdsong maintains a comprehensive provider network of approximately 4,000 access points that isaccredited by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA),” elucidates Sharon. “This means the recruitment and credentialing processes used to vet our providers adhere to some of the highest industry standards. Providers must meet rigorous standards to participate in our network, and we demand the highest standards of care.”
Sharon truly believes in the large potential for improvement of the customer experience by working actively and proactively with members, through caring for them each step of the hearing journey. The need for hearing care is becoming more prevalent and at a younger age – with a significant growth trajectory of the senior market, taking good care of one’s hearing gets increasingly imperative. The average time it takes for first time wearers to act on their hearing impairment is around 10 years. All due to the stigma, and reluctance to admit the need for hearing aids to oneself. This is an example of why untreated hearing loss is the largest correlator to early onset dementia and cognitive decline.
“This is why we believe it is so important that health plans appreciate hearing benefits as a preventive measure, to prevent other more costly comorbidities down the line which ultimately impacts the health plans medical loss ratios (MLR), and to protect the health of the population,” says Sharon. “Birdsong Hearing Benefits provides a comprehensive solution for health plans that desire to differentiate themselves from their competitors.”