- Published on 29 November 2023
Another year...another example of how retail powerhouse Specsavers is increasing its profile across the audiology landscape. How much can its PAC event grow, and how?
The hosts of the PAC Professional Advancement Conference at Birmingham’s ICC venue on Sunday, September 17 composed a programme highlighting the role of the brain in hearing.
PAC 2023 kicked off with the impact of its keynote presentations, Gordon Harrison, Director of Professional Advancement Audiology, introducing speakers Susan Scollie, Professor of Audiology in University of Western Ontario’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and Prof. Sophie Scott, Director of the Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London. While the latter combined academic vision with skills honed in stand-up comedy to soften up the audience with laughter and then deliver deeper reflections on the social context of sound and hearing, Prof. Scollie focused sharply on aspects of clinical improvement in currently relevant areas.
Laughing, talking, beatboxing
Speaking about the current obstacles within the audiology industry, Professor Scott said that she wants to get people to use support for hearing and to see the link between hearing and brain health. And her keynote speech showed off her innovations in using brain imaging, while she invited the audience to think about about how speech is processed as sound, cleverly bringing this to life through showcasing images of patients laughing, beatboxing (vocal imitation of percussion), and talking. Underlining the value of the PAC event, Professor Scott affirmed: "Research only has impact if it can reach practitioners, and researchers also benefit from hearing views and perspectives from professionals to help them develop their research."
Verification in fitting modern hearing technology
Professor Scollie’s presentation on Advanced Hearing Aid Verification: New Technologies for Best Practices covered new developments for achieving and measuring speech audibility in quiet, along with the background evidence for continuing to carry out these measurements. Importantly, her focus including techniques for verifying and fitting advanced signal processors, streaming, and niche hearing products.
Medals and recogniton
Doug and Dame Mary Perkins, founders of Specsavers, honoured UK and ROI colleagues for their outstanding customer care and clinical excellence. Kate Kulesza, Hearing Care Assistant (HCA) of Specsavers Aberdeen, and Brian Maher Hearing Aid Dispenser (HAD) of Specsavers Clonmel, were praised for consistently going the extra mile to give the best customer service.
An afternoon of 12 breakout sessions mirrored the thought-provoking morning. Delegates were eager to hear from the likes of Signia, Sonova Group, and Demant, topics topics covering, among other things, The Power of Conversation, optimising clinical journeys, and creating a mindset for success.
Speaking about the breakout sessions, Julia Van Huyssteen, Head of Audiology - UK & Ireland for Signia, stressed: "The industry should be taking responsibility in helping to address the stigma around hearing care. Hearing aids are heroes, they enhance and enable people to lead active lives."
Producers and associations join the exhibition
PAC also saw the presence of manufacturers in the event’s exhibition hall, showcasing their latest technology and innovations. Highlighting the conference’s growing impact on the audiology field, Specsavers’ Gordon Harrison called the event "a valuable opportunity for like-minded professionals to learn, share and network". He added: "It’s always a pleasure to host PAC each year, bring to life the new innovations and research within the industry."
How can PAC grow into a bigger audiology conference?
Sonam Kaur Sehemby, Head of Clinical Training at Specsavers, who took over as PAC organiser in 2021, that year saw 700 delegates engage with a week-long virtual version of the Conference. Back as a face-to-face event, and open to those outside Specsavers, the number for the one-day event settled at 400. Topping 450 (400 internal, 50 external) in 2023 (some 80 places were offered free to students on UK audiology courses, 40 of which were taken) invites the question as to how much the event can grow. Specsavers runs an annual optical event at Birmingham's ICC that brings three to four thousand clinicians!
"Obviously the optical side of the business is a lot bigger," says Sonam, but she reveals that there are conversations around ways to make both the optics and audiology events bigger, perhaps combining in the future with the optical side of things “because hearing loss and vision loss interlink." A move to a different venue is also a consideration of the organisers, as is extending it beyond the one-day format.
Something else “never off the table” is the possibility of working jointly on events with professional bodies "in terms of having those conversations with the likes of BAA, BSHAA, BSA to have either their full involvement or part. We invite them all to conference because it's important for internals and externals to have sight of what their professional bodies are doing, but we also work with HCPC (Health and Care Professions Council) because a lot of the clinicians and the private sector have to be HCPC registered."
The practicality of a "more accessible" one-day format still appeals to Specsavers, however. "Having a one day conference means that it's just one day that we're impacting your patients' care," stresses Sonam.
Professionals that do attend PAC can, says Sonam, adjust their expecations of the Conference to one key objective for the event: "The premise for PAC has always been what can you take away from that session that you can implement in the clinic the next day?"