Problem Solver

Attracting Elusive Patients

Urinary incontinence stifles 200 million sufferers worldwide, even though many products exist to help.

Urinary incontinence is a significant problem, with more than 25 million men and women in the United States (200 million worldwide) suffering from involuntary loss of bladder control. According to the National Association for Continence, two-thirds of men and women ages 30 to 70 have never discussed bladder health with their doctor.

“More Americans suffer from incontinence than from hay fever or migraines, but very few are talking about it.”

Spencer Deane

— Spencer Deane, SCA Personal Care

A recent survey of 780 women aged 35 and older in the U.S. and Canada, sponsored by TENA, a maker of incontinence products for more than 54 years, and conducted with Harris Interactive, of the women who acknowledged having the condition, almost half (48 percent) are embarrassed to discuss it and more than half (52 percent) either hide symptoms or are afraid of what others would think. The survey also reports that more than half of the women (51 percent) surveyed feel that it has a strong impact on their daily life. Despite this fact, 43 percent have never done anything about their symptoms.

“On the men’s side, we have found through internal research that the majority of men who suffer from incontinence don’t use products designed specifically for them, and that 60 percent of them do not use any protection at all,” says Spencer Deane, vice president of marketing for SCA Personal Care North America, which manufactures TENA brand incontinence products. “Overall, more Americans suffer from incontinence than those that are reported to suffer from hay fever or migraines, but very few are talking about it and they aren’t taking the appropriate measures to manage their symptoms. We want to change that.”

For the healthcare industry, incontinence is estimated to be a $2 billion market. And as the population booms, so will the sufferers of this stigmatized condition. The question is, what can providers do to help?

A big challenge for treating incontinence is that there is no one-product panacea for this widespread problem, so the process of finding the right solution can become expensive and frustrating. The key for providers, says Chuck Blackburn, principal, past president, and chairman of the board of Pennsylvania-based Blackburn’s, is to understand the products on the market and how to advise patients.

“Many good things have happened since I became familiar with this subject back in the late ’60s,” says Blackburn. “Wound, ostomy and continence has become a specialty in nursing (WOC Nurse). These people are the first resort to evaluate a patient’s needs. However, there is not a WOC nurse in every neighborhood. Nor in every hospital, nursing home, clinic or home health agency. With financial cutbacks in the healthcare delivery system these specialists have either been cut from staff or many more tasks have been added to their job description, making them very scarce. This has made it necessary for the providers who stock the products to become well informed and become clinical. Therefore, to be a competent provider of incontinence products (and I mean the whole line of products), the business has to make the commitment to provide clinical service. All forms of incontinence have their own set of challenges that can be clinically catastrophic if left unattended or bad information is given.”

TENA takes a holistic approach to incontinence management. “We have a full range of products that go beyond pads, guards, underwear and briefs to include skin care products like wash cream and wash cloths,” says Deane. “And we have a number of education and advocacy programs dedicated to breaking the silence on the condition and improving the well being of our consumers; as well as to help caregivers and institutions understand the ripple effect of incontinence management so they can reduce their total costs and improve their quality of care.”

Mark Rogers, director of sales for St. Louisbased Medical West Healthcare, agrees with the holistic approach, not only for incontinence but also for healthcare needs in general.

“Patients tend to be very brand loyal once they find the right product that fits their need,” he says. “And also, if they can source more products from a ‘one-stop shop,’ for example, diabetic supplies, incontinence, nutrition and personal care, then they would prefer to do business with a company like Medical West, which has been around since 1955 and handles all or most of their needs and be able to write one check or make one payment.”

At the end of the day, it comes down to what all patients’ desire: A provider who is going to listen and respond to their needs.

“We offer a help line for solving problems for clients,” says Blackburn. “We have an Enterostomal Therapist (ET or WOC Nurse) on staff. Solving problems is the most important service. Developing a reputation for being a source of reliable information becomes the best marketing tool available. It is one thing to be an ‘off the shelf’ vendor and another thing to make the commitment to get involved and solve the problem as well as selling something.”

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Joseph Duffy is a freelance writer and marketing consultant, and a regular contributor to HME Business and DME Pharmacy. He can be reached via e-mail at

HME Business Podcast