When A Pandemic Reveals How Essential Hearing Is

Phallon Doss guided her practices through the COVID-19 pandemic using a combination of the proven foundation of her CCCs and an innovative approach.

In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic required business of all kinds to temporarily close their doors, Phallon Doss immediately began working with the staff at the two audiology practices she owns in the San Antonio area to figure out how to provide their patients with care.

“We found out very quickly what we already knew — that hearing is essential,” she says.

“Our patients almost demanded that we continue providing care,” she recalls. “While the world was shutting down, they were desperate to make sure that they could hear well, their devices were functioning and they could stay connected to what was going on with family or on the news.”

More than a year later, after implementing new initiatives and navigating unprecedented circumstances, Phallon believes the experience of the pandemic helped her and her team rethink and strengthen their approach to their work. At the same time, it also underscored the importance of her training, as she drew upon her CCCs from the start.

“One of the first things we did as a practice was revisit and catch up on our continuing education,” she recalls. “It was a great opportunity to work on ourselves as professionals and get as much training in as we could. The ASHA network offered many opportunities for learning and virtual courses, so we were able to make the best use of our abundant downtime .”

Ever since Phallon decided to switch from studying to be a teacher of the deaf to pursue audiology during her senior year of college, she realized that all of her professors had their CCCs. To her, this indicated that it was a standard part of becoming an audiologist.

“I never questioned whether I would apply to get my CCCs,” she says. “I believe that it signifies an extra level of commitment and professionalism.”

When she opened the first of her two clinics in 2013 “from scratch,” she credits her CCCs for helping gain patients’ trust. “I was young and fairly new in my career, so having those extra letters after my name helped patients have confidence that I had completed some advanced training to make me qualified to be their primary provider.”

Part of earning that trust means understanding their needs, particularly in a once-in-a-century pandemic. For instance, recognizing that telehealth appointments posed particular challenges for her patients, including a lack of access to internet, she had to meet her patients where they were, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach.

Along with stringent health and safety protocols, she started opening the practices earlier and closing later, in order to spread out employees’ shifts and open opportunities for patients to come in as well as leave with there being ample time to clean between appointments. Phallon and her team also began offering new services, such as “drive-up appointments” where they go out to the patients’ vehicles and take care of anything from testing a hearing device or answering in-person questions.

Drive-up appointments are “something that may continue after the pandemic,” Phallon says.   “We needed to find ways to get to our patients that may now become new standards of care.”

Her practice has also offered “hearing aid pop-up clinics” twice in the year of COVID — June 2020 and January 2021. Partnering with a local charity and neurotologist, the events resulted in testing, getting medical clearance and fitting 17 children from underserved communities with hearing aids at each clinic in a single day.

“These are families who have trouble making multiple appointments and limited financial means, so providing this service all in one shot was great for them,” Phallon says. She hopes to make this a regular event moving forward.

Throughout the past year, Phallon has tapped into both her own expertise, her CCCs and the ASHA network, as well as shared her experience with professional colleagues. Earlier this year, she delivered a presentation about how her practices navigated COVID-19 to a virtual gathering of Texas audiologists and speech-language pathologists.

“As challenging as this year has been, we have found innovations that have helped our practice that we would never have considered without this experience,” Phallon says. “Hopefully we have come out of this stronger.”