Suffolk: New home for the Hearing Care Centre

BUSINESSWOMAN and audiologist Karen Finch has moved her award-winning hearing care company to new premises in Ipswich. Sheline Clarke went to have a look around.

The Hearing Care Centre is East Anglia’s leading independent hearing care company with an impressive 7,500 patients on its books.

Set up in 1998 by audiologist Karen Finch, the company has recently invested �200,000 in new premises in Ipswich’s Upper Brook Street where the footfall has already increased dramatically after just a few weeks of opening.

The new premises have given Karen and her team the opportunity to create the perfect space for their business.

“We have grown up,” says Karen. “We’ve been in business for 14 years and now know what we need to best serve our patients and I am really proud of what we have achieved here.

“It has taken three years - and a few tears - but now we are here.

“We talk to our customers all the time about what they like and dislike about us and what we could do better and in three successive surveys we found that it was our premises weren’t quite right so we have listened and responded and hope they find our new home a much better environment.”

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The new Hearing Care Centre is a professional yet calm environment where people can feel at ease before and during their appointments.

The reception is bright and airy with a spacious waiting area with refreshments available, headphones with piped music and a television showing the news headlines. There is also a dedicated retail space and telephone demonstration area and a wall full of certificates showing the staff’s professional credentials and the company’s success in many business awards, including the EADT’s Anglian Business Awards for Training and Development and Customer Service and a national award from the British Chambers of Commerce.

But perhaps the most imaginative feature of the new centre is the five dedicated consultation rooms over two floors that have each been colour-themed in pastel shades of lilac, pink, green, blue and grey, tranquil colours chosen especially for their calming qualities. As well as the state of the art medical equipment, the rooms also feature artwork and accessories to make them pleasant spaces where consultation can feel much more friendly.

It is a continuation of the company’s pledge to provide customer satisfaction through taking a personal approach to providing the highest quality hearing care.

“It is important that our patients can relax when they come in and creating that environment was very important,” said Karen. “This business is a family affair and that family includes our patients.

“It is a fact that it can take a person between five and 10 years to decide to do something about their hearing loss and after that amount of time their experience when they come to see us is crucial; we could do a quick fix but that is not the way we work. We want to develop that person and help them achieve a better quality of life because hearing is all about communication and that’s vital. It’s about developing people and their relationship with us through the consultations, fitting and check-ups to make sure they are getting the very best treatment. We see a patient’s personality change as they progress with us and you learn a lot about them and their family and their routine and that is much easier if they are in a caring environment where they can relax and where we can conduct our consultations calmly in a place designed exactly for that purpose.”

Karen started her business – with a second mortgage on the family home – because she felt she could offer a better service than what was available at the time.

Coming from a hearing impaired family, Karen had first hand experience of what services were available and had also worked in the NHS herself. Her aim was to provide a better and more ethical service and give her patients the choice of the latest hi-tech innovations on the market to help improve their hearing.

Her 7,500 patients obviously think she has succeeded.

“Basically there are two options available for people who are concerned about their hearing. They can self-refer and simply walk through the door and see us or they can go to their GP who will decide whether they want to spend the money on a referral. If they get referred then they will be offered what is available at the time.

“It sounds awful to say we can do it better, but we can. There are 300 digital aids on the market, some of them are as powerful as a laptop computer and we are about offering choice because we are truly independent and not tied to one manufacturer. It’s about providing solutions, this isn’t a hard sell environment, it’s about improving quality of life and giving people choices.”

The technology available is now not only extremely discreet but also innovative in that it can pair up with Bluetooth for use with a mobile telephone and are capable of interaction with other devices such as the television, which means, for example, you can still hear what’s going on even if you pop out to the loo.

“I don’t think hearing devices will get any smaller, because people won’t be able to handle them; it’s the technology which is developing all the time,” said Karen.

“Nothing will make up for the loss of hearing, but we can make things significantly better, and if we can have a little fun with our patients too, then that’s great.”

And while the spotlight is on the Hearing Care Centre’s new head quarters, Karen is proud to run 17 outcentres across Suffolk and into Norfolk, at GPs’ surgeries and in one instance, at an opticians.

“Right from the start we wanted to take our services into the community and make it easier for people to get treatment for their hearing loss. A lot of the equipment is portable and we wanted to make this local and reach out to offer a professional, ethical and speedy service. A lot of the surgeries we work in have approached me and we are only too happy to be represented in so many areas of the county.”

Karen and her team also work to try and prevent hearing loss by promoting safety precautions for people in noisy environments. They work with the Health and Safety Executive to try and avoid hearing loss for workers, particularly in noisy industry, advise and provide ear defenders for gun clubs, bike clubs and even musicians.

As a board member of Ipswich Chamber of Commerce, Karen is also hoping to provide better education for the region’s employers about looking after their workers’ hearing.

“The message is, always, do something early. If you have even a slight problem and you leave it you will deteriorate and your ears will get lazy. Routine screening plays a huge part in identifying what’s wrong and working to improve it.

“For some people even going to work or a cocktail party is so difficult because they can’t hear what’s going on and they feel isolated; there are many things we can do to improve that.

“I love what I do,” said Karen, “a lot of people don’t so I am very lucky and this is a landmark in the development of our business and the journey we are on.”

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