Incontinence Update: Getting the Word Out
Incontinence is a topic that no one likes to talk about. Embarrassed or ashamed, a person with incontinence most likely will go to the nearest retail store and purchase a leading brand of adult diapers. However, that person is probably not fully educated on the different products available and too embarrassed to ask someone at the store, so the choice of product may not be the best one.
Home medical equipment (HME) providers have the unique opportunity of providing education about incontinence and related products, but it is the incontinence sufferers or their caregivers who must overcome embarrassment or shame to reap the benefits of the information.
So how can providers get the word out about it if consumers will not come to them? Providers go to the consumer-via the Internet.
Taking it to the Net
One of the best ways for HME providers to promote their incontinence products is through the Internet. As the younger crowd, who is more savvy with the Internet, gets older, online shopping for incontinence products will become more frequent. For those who are embarrassed by their condition, the Internet creates a perfect tool to ask questions and search for products anonymously. "Go past the geriatric crowd and mindset," said Art Hanson of EHOB Inc. "Offer products to a broader audience."
As baby boomers age, the incontinence product industry will grow, and the Internet will remain a foremost source of information. "The market is growing," said Lawrence Salk of the Salk Co. "With more people entering the market, a web site is helpful because it gets the products out to a large number of people."
The following manufacturers' sites are examples of the merging of product selection and concern for the customer. Each site provides information on incontinence and shows the consumer the products available for certain situations. The sites do not allow online product ordering, but they do provide a phone number to call for ordering information through medical suppliers.
"Go past the geriatric crowd and mindset," said Art Hanson of EHOB Inc. "Offer products to a broader audience."
The Salk Company: The Salk Company's web site, www.salkcompany.com, allows users to access more than just information on the latest in incontinence products. It also features a testimonial section, a discussion of incontinence facts, a product page, and a section on how to buy these products. The information section, entitled "What you need to know about incontinence," clearly and concisely explains the different types of incontinence. Although the explanations offered here are short, they do present the facts in a direct manner with easy-to-understand phrasing.
Salk's product section also allows readers easy access to information. Users can find out more about a product by clicking on the product name, or they can look on the product chart, which is broken into sections.
The chart uses graphic icons to help individuals choose which incontinence product is best for their specific case. These icons show whether a product is a one-or two-piece system, if it is recommended for overnight use, if it can be washed, and they indicate each products' disposability.
Humanicare: Humanicare International's website, www.humanicare.com, is dedicated to helping people "better understand and manage incontinence with information as well as offering a line of quality underpads for beds." The site features a "What's New" section, along with a list of support groups, a "Product Line" section, and a detailed "Information Tour."
It opens with a three-page self-guided incontinence informational tour and continues with useful information such as incontinence statistics and explanations of types of incontinence.
The product section of Humanicare's web site is separated into products for men, women, children, unisex, and items used for bedding and odor. The sections that describe two-piece systems are divided into two steps, one for the garment itself and one for the liner or pad. With this two-step system, users can easily find information on garments and liners that fit their needs.
Kimberly-Clark Corp.: Kimberly-Clark Corp., the manufacturers of Depend and Poise products found in many retail stores, is located on the web at www.depend.com or www.poise.com. The homepage for this site offers sections such as "Product Selection Guide," "Incontinence Education Center," "Caregiver Info Center," as well as sections for "Questions & Comments" and "For Medical Professionals."
The "Incontinence Education Center" of Kimberly-Clark's web site gives users specific information within separate subsections on male and female incontinence. The "Support" area provides links to various organizations and companies that provide support and information. A "Frequently Asked Questions" section is also included in the Education Center.
The product selection section includes three subsections, "Selecting the Right Absorbency Products for You, "Product Selection Guide," and "Questions and Answers About Our Products." Within this section, users can take a short questionnaire that calculates which Kimberly-Clark product might be best for their specific problems.
Beyond the Net
But what about customer service? Providers who recommend the Internet for information about incontinence provide a different kind of customer service than the traditional one-on-one conversation. Instead, they show the consumer a portal to product information and incontinence education in the privacy of the consumer's home.
As shown, the Internet is not cutting out the role of the provider, but is, in fact, helping the provider by giving customers another less embarrassing way to get information about incontinence.
While the Internet is a very important means of educating about incontinence, providers still must provide exceptional customer service for customers who prefer one-to-one interaction. Not everyone has access to or feels comfortable with the Internet, and computers cannot replace personal attention. So HME providers must be prepared to listen to a customer's incontinence concerns and point that customer to the most appropriate product.
One way to provide superior customer service is to become a knowledgeable source of information about incontinence and incontinence products.
Recognizing the Customer Base
Though not a disease, incontinence currently affects 13 million people in the United States. According to the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, 85 percent of the 13 million are women, while 50 percent of elderly people deal with incontinence on a regular basis. Furthermore, the care cost for incontinence is estimated to be $16 billion dollars a year, and the adult diaper market is expected to grow 25 percent per year.
One of the reasons for continued growth in the incontinence product field is due solely to modern medicine's progress in helping people live longer, which accounts for a majority of the elderly having to deal with incontinence. However, the elderly are not alone. Many people who deal with incontinence are recovering from operations, childbirth, and stressful situations.
Incontinence can be an embarrassing situation, and it definitely takes discretion and sensitivity to discuss with sufferers of the condition. Some people with incontinence prefer speaking with others about the condition and about products, but others prefer consulting the Internet. As shown, the Internet is not cutting out the role of the provider, but is, in fact, helping the provider by giving customers another less embarrassing way to get information about incontinence. Armed with that information, customers can have the knowledge of the products they need and the courage to ask for them. With the help of the Internet and through continued superior customer service, providers can expect good results and a bright future.
This article originally appeared in the January 2000 issue of HME Business.