This Atlanta-area 'tiny house' is actually a mobile hearing clinic
Onsite Audiology clinic provides concierge services to underserved populations
A tiny house is making a big impact on hearing health in Atlanta, Georgia’s south metro area, thanks to the vision and innovation of Dr. Carla “Brandi” Smiley, AuD, a national board-certified audiologist on a mission to deliver hearing health to underserved populations.
Audiology practice on wheels
Onside Audiology is a 20’ x 8’ clinic on wheels built using sound attenuating materials. The 15,000-pound mobile clinic is ADA accessible, has a small waiting area, a certified sound-treated examination room, and modern audiologic equipment.
Since it began rolling on the streets of suburban Atlanta, Onsite Audiology has provided hearing health services to children, seniors, and veterans—three vulnerable populations that often have difficulty accessing healthcare.
Dr. Smiley was diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss at age six and said she gives much of the credit for her innovative professional style to her parents, who “always nurtured whatever we were into.” When she told her mother, an educator and elementary school principal, that she wanted to be an audiologist, she connected Brandi with speech pathologists in the school district.
“I realized I didn’t want to be a speech pathologist,” she said, after shadowing one for a time, “but I was intrigued by the special-needs population. At age 15, I saw my first kid diagnosed with autism. That’s when I knew that was my population.”
From that young age, Dr. Smiley pursued her dream of becoming an audiologist in the educational system, overcoming each challenge along the way. When Valdosta State University didn’t offer a degree in hearing health, she obtained a degree in early childhood education, accepted a teaching job in Florida to establish residency, and then enrolled in the graduate program at Nova Southeastern University.
“There were times when I thought about pursuing other things,” she said, “but it (audiology) always came back full circle.”
Tiny House Nation aficionado
When it was time to start thinking about private practice, Dr. Smiley knew she would have to think outside the box to accomplish her dream of bringing a physical clinic to patients in a mobile way. As a Tiny House Nation TV show aficionado, she consulted with a doctor in a different state who had a mobile practice, then worked with architects in the tiny house field to accomplish the build.
As a result, Onsite Audiology is a functional audiology practice on wheels, just small enough for Dr. Smiley to move it herself from place to place with a diesel truck. At most, she moves the mobile clinic 4-5 times a month and makes the most of seeing patients wherever she’s located.
“About 30-45 people said 'I believe in your vision' and poured in the finances so that I didn’t have to go into business debt,” she said. “I can remember seeing patients for the first time at a business expo at a senior facility in Spaulding County. Afterward, I was so overcome with gratitude that it all came to fruition.”
Dr. Smiley said she built the mobile clinic mainly “just to see kids” but watched as a hodgepodge of community members–including the elderly and first responders–come through her door at the expo.
'I'm just rolling with it'
“I wanted to serve underserved school districts,” she said. “As I got out into community, there were other needs I could address, so why wait. I’m just rolling with it!”
The devout Christian equates her mobile audiology practice to discipleship and says the best part of her job is providing hearing health access to someone that didn’t previously have it. Her mobile clinic serves school systems, assisted and independent living facilities, and Active Duty/Veteran’s organizations on a contractual basis, but her portable equipment allows her to provide concierge services when needed.
“My prices aren’t as high as they could be,” Dr. Smiley admits, “and I know that. But it’s worth it to provide care to a 93-year-old in her home knowing it won’t break into her savings or serve a child that’s been turned away from so many doctors because they have Medicaid. That’s what drives me. Because everyone deserves access.”