How Is Chronic Pain Like Hearing Loss (It’s Not How You Think)

When my business partner and I decided to start offering Scrambler Therapy (ST)—a unique new approach to chronic pain—on an independent basis, we knew that the model would need to be as innovative as the treatment. Why? Because we already had experience of offering it to conventional medical doctors, and their response showed us that the medical establishment was not well placed to accept novel therapies such as ST, even when individual doctors could see the value.

I had previously worked in the hearing aid industry, and that experience was to stand me in good stead. I knew the drivers of success in profitable hearing aid clinics. I knew the methodologies of marketing, of selling an out-of-pocket solution, and of creating value and overcoming objections to drive sales, and I knew the nuance of doing that in a healthcare environment where neither the patient wants to be sold to, nor, generally speaking, does the practitioner want to be perceived as a salesperson. In this type of scenario, two factors usually make the difference:

  1. The patient acknowledging a problem, so that the clinician can become a solution provider to that problem
  2. The solution provider providing enough value in the solution to justify the cost of the investment on the part of the patient.

All care has a cost, and if the value of that care is sufficient to justify the expense, then investment in the care is sensible—whether insurance covers all of it, part of it, or none of it. As I analyzed the successful hearing aid center model as a template, I realized that it offered a sensible model for ST. If people are willing to pay several thousand dollars out of pocket to resolve or improve their hearing loss, they may be willing to pay a significant amount to ease chronic pain. The key, I decided, was in determining how to make them aware of the solution we offered and present it to them on the right way. The foundation, vision, and initial thinking for what would become Radiant Pain Relief Centers was born.

Similarities between a Successful Hearing Aid Center and Radiant Relief

I soon realized that there were several elements of the hearing aid centers where I had previously worked that would translate effectively to Radiant Relief. They provided us with a framework for creating a business and healing model. These were:

Similar cost structure

The initial capital outlay to build and operate a hearing aid clinic is similar to the outlay we invested in setting up Radiant Relief. This included initial expenditure on equipment, tenant improvements, prelaunch marketing, and cash to cover ongoing operations as revenues build. Ongoing operating expenses are fairly stable and predictable: rent, utilities, payroll and related, and marketing. While there are some differences between the ongoing operating costs and those of Radiant, they were close enough to give us a starting point in building a budget.

Similar revenue potential

Knowing the topline revenue potential of a successful hearing aid center and the average sales price per hearing aid sold gave us a basis to estimate of what we would need to charge in order to build a viable company when replacing hearing care with ST. As I modeled this initially, and later remodeled it with the help of brighter financial minds, we arrived at an estimated average price that we would need to command in order to justify the business. Of course, we didn’t know for sure whether we were right. Would people pay the rate that made us viable? Only time would tell, but at least we had a basis to begin.

Similar marketing aspect

Given the out-of-pocket cost of hearing aids, and the cost of ST, we knew we would need to advertise more than most other healthcare practices. In addition to recognizing the need for advertising, building a new business gave us an opportunity to think carefully about how we wished to go about our marketing.

The hearing aid clinic model, as a consumer business with a retail component, provided a strong basis, but we also engaged in a lot of original thinking. I wanted to create a patient experience and build a brand that was different from most other healthcare centers and clinical experiences.

Similar operating drivers, patient throughputs, and KPIs

The operating drivers (revenues versus costs), the volume and flow of patients, and the key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect the vitality and progress of the business are certainly different in our center than in a successful hearing aid business. However, by understanding and modeling the other factors—costs, revenue targets, the marketing aspect, etc.—certain assumptions could be modeled fairly easily. By understanding the drivers of the business, things become measurable, predictable, and adjustable. Although some unique learning takes place as our business intelligence and data grow, the hearing aid clinic model provided a starting point for our analysis and modeling.

Similar profit potential

With the cost and revenues modeled, all the aspects of marketing considered, and the operating drivers calculated, we understood our potential for profitability. As the model was built and refined, and the numerous variables massaged, it became clear that, on paper, this model could work very well. If the assumptions held in real life, if patients saw the value and invested in therapy at the estimated revenue amount we forecasted, we had a business that could be profitable while remaining affordable. But even if we were wrong, we had a plan, and the only way to prove a plan is to put it into action and test it.

The Advantages of a Direct-to-Consumer Model

The medical establishment is excellent in many ways. But it also has its limitations. Doctors favor products and treatments for which patients can claim insurance reimbursements. They require a lot of studies before they will consider a new product. Therefore, they tend to be conservative about accepting new treatments.

A direct-to-consumer business meant that we could bypass the skeptical medical professional. The price of the technology and a lack of insurance coverage became less of an issue; if we could create the right value proposition and price point, patients would pay for it, justifying the investment in the technology. We could also likely negotiate a wholesale price for the devices based upon making multiple device purchases, thereby pushing our price down.

The lack of a deep and robust body of clinical studies became less of an issue because, generally speaking, consumers don’t care all that much about placebo controls and peer-reviewed studies. They like knowing that the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University are the primary research centers, and that the chief medical officer overseeing the training and care process is a Harvard/MIT-trained medical doctor with thirty years of clinical experience and a great reputation.

But above all, they care whether ST will offer a better solution to their chronic pain. They don’t care about theories and statistics; they care about getting out of bed, about functioning, and about rekindling hope that pain does not control their life anymore. We believed we could offer them these things and more.

There are a few clear contraindications against using ST: pregnancy, implanted device, and certain medications. Outside of those disqualifications, however, we have seen no reported side effects beyond occasional mild skin irritation, tiredness during or following treatment, or rarely, and a slight and temporary increase in pain (often followed by pain reverting to a level lower than baseline).

This meant that we could go confidently to the consumer with a safe solution. We could answer their questions about whether ST works, how quickly, and for how long. We could figure out a pricing model that would be viable for the company yet affordable to the average person, even those without insurance coverage.

With those bases covered, we had a formula for translating the model I had already seen at work in hearing aid centers to our new center for the relief of chronic pain. All we needed was to take the leap into making our plan a reality.

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