The Untold Story of the Respiratory Industry

Love ’em, or hate ’em, media are a part of all our lives. Just how clued-in is the mainstream media to the respiratory industry? What issues are getting covered? The past year was full of surprises for the respiratory home care industry, with changes to reimbursement, ownership of equipment and accreditation requirements. Added to that is the national debate on health care issues, such as the aging baby boomer population. There also appears to be a growing awareness of diseases such as asthma, COPD as well as sleep disorders. With all of these concerns one would expect to see regular stories in the mainstream press about home care. Although there has been the occasional article in USA Today and some regional newspapers, there has not exactly been a glut of stories.

To find out what the mainstream media is saying about the industry, RM chatted with Michael Reinemer, VP communications and policy, American Association for Homecare.

RM: Michael, as the VP for communications and policy, I imagine you have a lot of contact with various media.
I mostly get contacted by the trade press and also some broader medical press; then, to a lesser extent, consumer media. With media such as USA Today and the New York Times, it’s more a case of us reaching out to them to try to get them up to speed on some of these issues. We are trying to get the mainstream media to understand what’s at stake, and the opportunities, the advantages and the cost savings for things like home oxygen therapy or respiratory therapy in the home. This is a huge untold story.

There is growing concern about asthma especially among younger and older populations. But there is not as much media coverage as there should be; for example there is little coverage of the rising incidents of COPD, and so we’re trying to figure out how to get the mainstream press more engaged in these issues.

One of the ways we’re trying to do this is to get the local providers and RTs that deliver these therapies to help with their local media, to educate them about the population that benefits from these local services. If we don’t put a face on it and educate people about what’s at stake, it’s hard to move forward. We need to strengthen these therapies and the coverage in order to make sure patients have access to them, and continue to develop the therapies and the technology that have served these people.

During the debate about the Deficit Reduction Act, a number of providers called up local TV stations and invited them to come along on the visit, see how the equipment works and interview some patients using oxygen concentrators. In some cases, they had some on camera interviews with members of Congress. That is one of the bright shining moments where it did work. But, it’s sad it takes that kind of really dramatic threat to get the kind of attention that the issue deserves.

RM: What are the gaps in press coverage and in public awareness?
The understanding, for example, that there are 1 million Medicare beneficiaries on home oxygen therapy and many suffer from COPD. They are typically women in their 70s and 80s, and this therapy is their life line and it also keeps them out of institutions.

Home care is a relatively new sector in health care and doesn’t have quite the visibility. The typical patient is invisible. Perhaps the broader challenge is making people aware that there is this population receiving the care in the home and we need to make sure we’ve got good policy.

RM: Ideally, what would you like the media to provide more coverage of?
I would tell them a number of things: the technology is improving; the equipment is more portable and wearable. Advances in telemedicine and telehealth make it possible for health care professionals to monitor health remotely or between the home and the doctor’s office. We can do virtually anything in the home now, short of surgery. This is another one of these untold stories.

Also, as boomers get older, they aren’t going to want to sit in a nursing home; home care is another way that you have more options as you get older.

Another broad point is that it’s like most long-term care issues — most Americans don’t think about these issues until they need it in a crisis situation. My challenge is to figure out what would be a good story and help package that for the press.

RM: Should the home care industry itself be doing more to get the attention of the mainstream media?
Yes, I think we should, and its something we do work on. The reality is, we’re so busy everyday just trying to prevent further assaults on home care in Congress and from CMS. It’s full-time work right there; so, it’s hard to devote a lot of attention when you’re in battle mode all the time, but you need the support to do both at the same time.

This article originally appeared in the Respiratory Management Jan/Feb 2007 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Deborah Cooper is the former Respiratory Management editor.

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