Business Services

Getting a Helping Hand

Why HMEs must harness the enhanced business services available to them.

A key element to strategy is logistics. You must have the resources required to ensure you come out on top. When it comes to the homecare industry, a key resource for providers is the enhanced business services available to them.

This is especially true given the extremely difficult funding environment and marketplace in which providers are currently operating. The 9.5 percent cuts to Medicare funding per MIPPA; declining oxygen revenues; the round one re-bid rounding the corner; rough unemployment rolls resulting in fewer patients with private payor coverage; and decreasing consumer spending hitting retail revenues have all translated to tighter margins.

That means that providers do not have ample capital to throw at what might be otherwise considered core business assets — elements such as training, marketing and similar capacities. Fortunately, there are a number of enhanced business services available to them for low- to no-cost, and the source of those services might initially seem surprising: manufacturers.

Manufacturers of all types — large and small, single-product category to multi-line — are offering a variety of no-cost or low-cost services to providers to help give them a leg up in these tough times. The services range from marketing support, to enhanced technical support services, to professional education, to assistance with Medicare claims, and even whole software systems.

Why are manufacturers providing these services? Simply put, because it is in their best interest. By providing key business assets to providers, manufacturers ensure that their customer base of HMEs remains stable, thus ensuring all parties win.

Soup-to-Nuts Service

Some Vendors offer the entire gamut of enhanced business services: technical training, marketing services, etc. One of the “granddaddies” of these holistic HME support services is Invacare Corp.’s iPartner Solutions. Invacare’s services include equipment maintenance services, billing and collection services and even a HME management software tool for providers.

For equipment maintenance, iPartner solutions offers a 5 Star service plan, which provides labor support during warranty for Invacare chairs, and offers post-warranty repairs of any and all consumer power wheelchairs in a patients home using its Roadrunner organization (Invacare acquired Roadrunner Mobility, approximately a year ago). It sells parts through its service parts business, as well as parts for even competitor products, to give providers a partner that is a single parts source.

Beyond product support, iPartner also includes billing services, such as HCS, which resulted from Invacare’s purchase of Bargmann Management LLC. Invacare HCS focuses primarily on sending out patient statements and collecting patient co-pays. Patient co-pays represent a tough challenge for providers because they take time to collect, especially given the difficult economy and rising unemployment rates.

(To learn more about how providers can collect co-pays, HME Business will be hosting a free Webinar on March 17. “Show me the $$: Coach your team to get co-pays,” hosted by Ty Bello, president of HME training firm Team@Work LLC, will show providers why co-pays are critical; how to initiative appropriate followup with patients; and how to formulate solutions for getting paid from those most difficult customers. Go to www.hme-business.com to sign up for this free educational opportunity.)

Another iPartner offering is the Bonafide Management System. Through a partnership with Bonafide, Invacare offers Bonafide’s web-based system for managing provider businesses. Using a standard computer with an Internet connection and Web browser, providers can use the HME-specific system to manage various aspects of their provider business, such as billing; filing claims with Medicare and other payors; inventory management; customer service; and data entry/management.

Invacare iPartner’s training organization also provides education to its providers in the form of training sessions to show them how to repair various pieces of equipment. It also has hosted best practice sharing events at various provider summits. It also provides accreditation consulting via HME Advantage.

Going Mobile

Another large manufacturer committed to providing a variety of enhanced services to providers is Pride Mobility Corp., which has been offering various enhanced services for several years.

“We offer a breadth of services designed to grow our providers’ business,” says Tiffany Cloud, vice president of customer support and fulfillment. “Those capabilities range from marketing support services, to reimbursement, to technical support services and education.”

To help providers get a full view of its enhanced support offerings, Pride offers PrideProvider.com, which lets providers of Pride products log on to get information on Pride products and services.

In terms of marketing support, Pride offers complete marketing consultation services, which includes marketing and advertising information, as well as suggestions and advice on how to create a complete marketing campaign based on the provider’s business model. The consultations are free, and conducted on a regular basis, Cloud says.

“We also offer merchandising support, guidance on how to effectively merchandize retail showrooms and we will work with providers to supply merchandising materials,” Cloud explains. That includes banners and hangtags, as well as other forms of merchandising support.

Additionally, Pride offers design services for ad slicks, posters and other advertising materials, and even offers video editing capabilities and a photo studio to help providers develop video, print and radio campaigns, she adds. It also offers web development services to help build provider sites. Some of the advertising services are free of charge, whereas others are offered on a fee basis, but at a fraction of the price of an ad agency.

Cloud says an increasingly important element of Pride’s enhanced services are its educational offerings. Education is in demand from providers because of the number of hours in continuing education course provider staff must attend in order to maintain their certifications or licenses in their respective states. To respond to that Pride offers a seminar tour called Pride University throughout the year at various cities, offering seminars on technical training, reimbursement training, advanced seating and positioning, and retail sales. Pride’s education department works with providers to develops the courses based on their needs, and has had thousand of them attend the course.

“The nice thing is that providers can pick and chose the courses they want to attend, based on what their needs are,” she says.

(To read more about Pride University and other educational opportunities in the industry, read this special edition’s feature on professional education for HMEs)

And the demand is there for these services. Cloud says Pride has seen a recent uptick in demand for its enhanced services. “Everybody can appreciate and looks for business partners, and particularly in times that are fraught with more challenges, providers want to be as smart as they can be to work in the existing and anticipated [business] environment and getting the perspective of their manufacturing partners is something that I think is beneficial.”

Cloud says Prides reimbursement department is a good example of that exchange. “We have a lot of people in our Reimbursement Department who came from Medicare, so maybe if a provider is having problems with documentation, we can work with them on pre-screens of documentation, or coding analysis or appeal and recovery assistance,” she explains. “We can do a lot for them and any opportunity to for us to work with our providers is exciting for us.”

Acquiring Strategic Assets

The best place to start is to simply survey all of your vendors — large and small — on a quasiregular basis to see what extended services they offer. While its obvious the big names such as Invacare and Pride will be offering extended services, you might be surprised to learn what smaller manufacturers might offer in the way of training or technical services or marketing support. It pays to ask.

So, if you haven’t already, to contact your vendor reps and have them provide details on all the support services they offer and whether or not they are free or come with a fee, and if so, what that cost is. Furthermore, make sure those reps keep you regularly updated about their enhanced support services, in case any are added or changed.

Chances are, if your vendors are smart, they will have already reached out to you about their enhanced services. They want to ensure your repeat business, and they best way to do that in this tough marketplace is to ensure your success.

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

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