HME Higher Learning
For providers, sharpening their business game means sharpening their minds.
- By David Kopf
- Dec 01, 2009
A provider cannot afford to ignore any asset that might help find new efficiencies or uncover new opportunities in such a difficult funding landscape. Margins are down and providers must develop new skillsets that can help them survive the tough times, so they can thrive in the future. Professional education for both staff and management can help providers acquire those skills and instill the knowledge that will drive new ideas.
“Continuing education for the HME industry is absolutely paramount,” says Ty Bello, RCC, president and founder of HME education firm Team@Work. “We are trying to raise the bar on our staffing and in doing so, we have to bring education to them so that they can perform better in their jobs. … The patients that we are taking care of deserve our absolute best, and our employees deserve the absolute best training and education that they can get.”
From a business standpoint, professional education can help HME business owners increase their operational efficiencies by learning and implementing best practices and new technologies in their business. It also helps raise the industry’s profile, says John Domanick, director of clinical education and development for Invacare Corp., which operates the Clinical and Reimbursement Education Series (CARES) of professional education courses, some of which include CEUs.
“Collectively, continuing professional education demonstrates a firm commitment to high quality and high standards in the provision of home medical equipment and services,” he says. “And [it] can help dispel some of the ‘bad press’ sometimes attributed to our industry by a few bad apples.” And of course it helps HME professionals maintain and update their skillsand knowledge as well, which can be a requirement for doing business. Many specialists in the homecare industry need to maintain certifications and licenses, and continuing education is required in those cases, says Scott Sergeant, manager of e-learning development for VGM Group Inc., which operates VGM University, VGMU Extension and mov-E (medicalonline video education).
“From a clinical standpoint, professional education is important to not only maintain certain professional certifications and credentials, such as for OTs, PTs and respiratory therapists, but also important to stay current on new technologies and innovations that help provide better patient outcomes,” Domanick says.
“So the value to the provider, one, is that the staff member who has that license or certification has the training behind them, and that brings a tremendous benefit to the provider,” Sergeant says. “The value to the provider going forward is to help that staff member maintain that license or certification.”
Also, another business necessity linked to professional education is accreditation. Each of the accreditation organizations has outlined continuing education requirements to which accredited providers must adhere. “Providers are required to provide continuing education to employees, once they are accredited,” Sergeant says. “That’s another huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to continuing education. No matter where the provider is going to get it, it is still going to be required to offer it to employees.”
Education is also a differentiator. Patients and referral partners can feel a certain level of trust working with a business they know has made a commitment to stay up to date on industry and healthcare developments and changes. They know that provider is constantly trying to improve service.
“A commitment to continuing education by HME professionals helps demonstrate and reinforce to patients that ‘We’re committed to providing high-quality products and services with high standards to improving patient outcomes,’” Domanick explains. “It’s not a panacea, but it does help demonstrate commitment. Some patients do seek assurance that the provider they’re dealing with is high quality and service-oriented.
“Professional education, along with accreditation and other quality assurance measures, helps reinforce that notion,” he continues. “If your car needs to be repaired, would you feel better taking your car to an ASE-certified mechanic or to just any repair shop?”
“I would think that if a patient knew that a provider had someone on staff that has the background and education, that would play a big part in where they go,” Sergeant adds. “It would for me.”
Patients benefit from having the confidence that their needs are being taken care of in a time that can be confusing, adds Mike McKillip, director of events and business solutions for The MED Group, which offers various industry courses. “Any time you can take the mystery out by raising your level of expertise, you raise your level of being a trusted advisor,” he says.
The same holds true for referral partners, Domanick contends: “Professional education and credentialing can most certainly differentiate providers in the marketplace, and providers would do well to market that advantage if they can demonstrate how it sets them apart and above their competitors.”
“In giving employees these opportunities for CEUs, we are raising the bar for how we are delivery services to the end user and the referral community,” Bello says. “The referral community is looking for organizations that are making these kinds of investments in their staffs, and we need to let the referral community know we are investing in our staff and their ongoing training and education.”
While educating staff might not necessarily be the thing that wins over a referral service, it can only help. Bello says he makes it a point to actually use it as an active selling point. Moreover, staff should be conveying that value in their meetings, as well.
“The playing field is starting to level out again,” McKillip adds. “It used to be accreditation was the differentiator. With more providers accredited, a provider will have to continue to show why they are the ones [trustworthy] enough to place someone’s wellbeing into their hands. Having an ongoing educational plan instills a lot of trust in that company.”
So how does a provider get started in terms of professional education? Which staff should get trained? Is there an outline as to what courses are appropriate? Obviously a good starting point would be to identify and take advantage of any existing resources. For instance, if a provider is a member of a purchasing group or member services organization in the industry, typically those organizations provide education services.
And, of course, there are independent professional education sources serving the HME industry and trade events, such as Medtrade, that offer education opportunities, as well.
Additionally, the provider should investigate as to whether or not their manufacturers provide courses. Many vendors are offering HMEs courses as a long-term strategy to make their customers more successful, and thus bigger buyers. So they see professional education as an investment. For instance, Pride Mobility has pursued offering professional education to its providers for a decade. Currently, it offers courses through Pride University and Quantum University (for its rehab counterpart, Quantum Rehab).
“We started it up back in 1999 and the seminar part began in 2000, and we did that because we saw the demand and need for education on a more formal level,” says Dan Fedor, general manager of education & compliance for Pride Mobility. “Those courses eventually became Pride University. As times have changed, the demand for education has increased, and that has allowed us to expand even further.”
(Turn to “Learn More: Professional Education Providers in the HME Industry” to see a sample of some of the various professional education sources available to providers.)
And in the vase of vendor-driven education, this can be especially helpful when it comes to product knowledge, Fedor notes. “We felt that it’s really important to have that education to know the product better,” he explains. “If you know the product, then you can select the right product for the patient up front, get them in the right product, fit them correctly for it — which will definitely yield a better outcome for the end user — and just have more familiarity with the product.
“Knowing how to repair a product is one area we focus on,” he adds. “Having the technicians knowing how to quickly repair products, troubleshoot them in a timely fashion and get them back up and running for the patient helps everyone.”
Once the provider identifies the education opporopportunities available, it must then formulate a plan. That plan should start by asking staff, Bello says. The provider will most likely have a good sense of what it wants to offer staff, but should also provide staff a comprehensive list of courses and have them provide feedback on what could help.
“I always say that you should survey your staff to see what they need and supplement that with what you believe they need,” he says.
“Continuing education should align with the specific personnel role,” Domanick says. “A first step is to determine what disciplines are applicable to the role. Is it business practices? Clinical? Reimbursement? All of the above? Once the disciplines are identified, you can then research what educational content or coursework is available, and how and when is it offered.”
“What are the types of courses owners/operators/ managers should take versus staff, or is there a difference? There is a huge difference,” McKillip adds. “A number of clinicians ended up being providers without the benefit of a business background. They need an understanding of customer service and reimbursement, but also subjects like employment law, leadership, business planning and more. There are not many places they can get this, especially if they want it specific for the HME industry.”
Professional Education Providers in the HME Industry
There is a number of sources of professional education in the HME industry, broken into two main groups. First, there are traditional providers of professional education, such as industry educators and member services organizations and buying groups. Second, there are the manufacturers, which have been offering education to providers in order to help them be more successful businesses — and customers.
Here is a look as several professional educations resources available to HMEs:
Traditional Providers of Education
DMETRAIN provides a variety of online professional education courses to HME industry professionals, and aims to provider course content that goes deeper into industry specifics. For example, its courses cover customer service, billing, collections, equipment delivery, management, inventory control, pharmacy services, safety, and compliance with federal and state laws and accreditation regulations.
For continuing education, DMETRAIN provides free AARC CRCE and BOC CPE to its subscribers. It also is automatically integrated into your respiratory therapists’ and orthotic and prosthetic employees’ course curriculums. DMETRAIN also maintains a California Board of Registered Nursing license to provide Continuing Education to nursing staff
In terms of cost, companies are charged per employee, per year. Each employee is prorated for the number of months he or she was active on DMETRAIN, so the provider isn’t penalized for hiring and firing employees. The individual rate a company pays per employee is determined by the number of employees that a company places on DMETRAIN. Companies must load a minimum of five employees to start. DMETRAIN’s per-employee subscription fees decrease after 10 employees, with additional fee reductions at higher levels.
The MED Group
MED University provides HME industry-specific education in what it calls a Master Program, which is geared to provide key skills needed by various staff positions at an HME business. Providers enroll staff online into various courses, and then those staff members can go online and begin learning. As they take the online courses, they are provided with note-taking tools, and can also print out the entire course tools, if they choose. When they are ready, they can take an online test.
MED University offers more than 100 courses that include CEU/CRCE Hours across a broad range of tracks. The tracks include: Basics of Customer Service; HME & Services Overview; Safety: Foundations of Reimbursement; Sales; Driver/Delivery Technician; Master Repair Technician; Orthotics; Professional/Personal Development; Management in the HME Industry; RTS/RESNA Rehab Courses; Reviews of Cook and Hussey, Assistive Technologies; Respiratory; and Refresher and Annual Reviews. In terms of job function, the courses are targeted to various HME professionals, including billing specialists; CSRs; drivers and delivery technicians; HME professionals; HME warehouse professionals; HME managers; repair technicians; RTS; and sales. Many of the courses are accepted by various professional groups, such as RESNA, NRRTS and AARC, as well.
A division of the VGM Group, VGM Education provides a variety of educational offerings to HME providers. It partners with various industry experts to provide training on the latest products, technology and services available. All in all, it offers more than 375 online courses across three e-learning platforms: VGMU, VGMU Extension and mov-E (medical online video education). VGMU functions as a sort of online “college” for the HME industry, offering HME and rehab-specific training courses written by industry professionals; continuing education delivered to the desktop; and 24-hour online access to courses and student records. Providers sign up staff, and they can being learning and testing online. The service charges a monthly fee, which is based on the number of employees that are registered with VGMU.
VGMU Extension is an e-learning website that is offered through VGM Education in partnership with echelon, a division of Florida Hospital College of Health Services. The mission of echelon is to serve the continuing education needs of healthcare industry professionals. The courses provided through VGMU Extension have been approved for continuing education credit by nearly 20 accreditors, such as the American Healthcare Radiology Administrators, the Florida Board of Nursing, the Florida Board of Nursing Home Administrators and the Florida Board of Occupational Therapy.
Medical online video education (mov-E) provides online video training for the HME industry. The video courses range in length from 10 to 35 minutes, and offer testing and interactive feedback to participants. The service also offers comprehensive managerial reports and tracking capabilities. Other features include comprehensive training with CEU and competency certificates; refresher course content that is full-motion video; and video testing with immediate feedback. Like VGMU, mov-E courses are charged on a monthly subscription fee that depends on the number of employees registered.
Team@Work brands itself as a business coaching organization, and in that vein tries to assist HME providers to not only provide education for their staff, but create an education plan that helps business managers and owners develop coaching skillsets that will help them pick the best education plans for their teams.
Its courses cover areas such as customer service, delivery, communications, operations, LEAN process, and sales. The company is in the process of becoming a member of IACET, International Association for Continuing Education. This is a process that should be completed relatively soon, most likely by the time this issue hits your mailbox.
The company also offers Team@Work U, a series of continuing education workshops focused on the business and medical education needs of physician offices, discharge planners, social workers, and other medical professionals. Rather than give referral partners souvenir pens, providers can offer this service to referral sources free of charge to them.
Pride Mobility launched Pride U and Quantum U to provide initial and continuing information and industry knowledge to its providers, therapists, internal team members, and consumers.
The courses include contact hours (CECs) and continuing education units (CEUs) required for many state and national governing bodies. The CEU courses offered by Pride U and Quantum U were approved by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.
Seminar course curriculum for 2010 includes various industry course topics, including funding, technical service, retail mobility, advanced electronics, seating and positioning, and RESNA preparations. The courses address various levels of informational need, from beginner to advanced. Pride U & Quantum U deliver their courses through various formats: A national seminar tour; interactive onsite seminars; live webinars; and online training.
Invacare CARES program (Clinical and Reimbursement Education Series) offers a variety of rehab-related courses on seating and positioning, manual mobility, power mobility, electronics programming and powered seating systems with specific courses tailored to specific learning levels, from beginner to intermediate to advanced. Invacare also offers CARES programs for government relations, respiratory therapy and technical training. These courses are CEU certified.
Rehab course subject matter includes Basic Seating Principles; an introduction to Power Mobility Solutions; and an introduction to Manual Mobility Solutions. These CEUs are accepted by both RESNA and NRRTS for credentialing purposes, and, like Pride Mobility’s courses, are approved by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Invacare’s online Respiratory CEU programs are designed to enhance the respiratory care provider’s knowledge of diseases, therapeutic systems and other factors that affect the care of respiratory patients in the home. These programs are intended for respiratory care practitioners, nurses, physicians and others interested in long-term care and management of the chronic respiratory patient. Courses include Ambulatory Oxygen: Keeping Pace with Change; On-Delivery Oxygen Technology: Good for Your Business, Good for Your Patients; Oxygen Conserving Devices; and Current Issues in Home Respiratory Care. The CRCEs for these courses are pending.
This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of HME Business.