Problem Solvers

Getting a Leg up in Platform Lifts

How can home access providers expand their businesses via VPLs?

For some providers home access has grown to be a critical business expansion opportunity. As a largely retail transaction, home access offers an excellent opportunity to diversify revenues that are free from the complications of Medicare and private payor insurance, while still leveraging the client and referral partner relationships that provider businesses have established over years.

Better yet, home access gives providers easy entry points into this new line of business through items such as bath safety products and threshold ramps. But at a certain point, if a home access provider has enjoyed some good success, it must start to consider stepping up into more complex offerings.

Perhaps the most challenging of those complex offerings are vertical platform lifts (VPLs). VPLs serve a key need for patients who either need access to their homes or to another level within their home. But there is a lot involved in installing VPLs from the initial inspection to understanding the building codes involved to having the right training in place.

To give providers some direction on entering VPLs, experts on vertical platform lifts, Dave Henderson, product and brand manager for EZ-ACCESS, and David Baxter, vice president of marketing for Harmar, shared their insights. Both companies manufacture vertical platform lifts and provide various resources to help providers enter the business.

What is the market opportunity/patient need for VPLs?

Henderson: VPL’s are becoming more and more needed in the baby boomer market. Many are looking for this type of solution when space is limited in the yard for the appropriate amount of ramping. Often homes in the city can have a 30 to 60 inch rise, which would require 30 to 60 feet of ramping. A VPL can accommodate the same need taking up only about a 60 inch by 60 inch area. Additionally, VPL’s are a good hidden solution inside an attached garage providing accessibility into a home. The market is consistently growing as baby boomers strive to stay in the home as long as possible.

Baxter: From the business opportunity side of things, end users have a continuation of needs. It might start with one type of disability and that disability can get worse over time. It could be that someone graduates from requiring a stairlift, where they have some amount of mobility to where they might need a vertical platform lift to change levels in their house. Or the access into their homes is somewhat limited and they need something more robust. In terms of size, it’s a market similar in dollar size to the market for stairlifts. The big difference between the two is that VPLs have a high commercial application, as well as residential.

What are some key referral partners for VPLs?

Henderson: TPA’s are a great referral partners for VPL’s, as well as many rehab facilities and specializing agencies (progressive disease types). Additionally, making connections with local remodeling contractors can be very advantageous as often times baby boomers will reach out to remodelers for different types of home modifications in order to stay in their homes.

How does a provider get started offering vertical platform lifts to their clients that need them?

Henderson: The best place to start is with manufacturer certification. Some lifts can be very challenging to install and some may be easier to install, but having the certification from the manufacturer will give you the knowledge and tools to make sure that the job is done correctly. Additionally that certification will give you extra credentials that will give confidence to funding or referral agencies.

Baxter: If a provider wanted to have all the installation capability under their roof, they are going to need to have an installation person who has general contractor skills. That includes the ability to pour concrete in certain case; the ability to do electrical wiring; and probably have some delivery and materials handling capability in order to move and lift these units to position them. In some cases the dealer will do some pre-configuration in their shop, but most of the work will be done during installation. There’s quite a bit of assembly involved in order for these to ship the right way, depending on what type of unit you are receiving, because a lot of them have enclosures or protective paneling that needs to be assembled out there.

What training and expertise is needed? Where can provider get that training?

Henderson: Manufacturers are a great source for education. Additionally groups such as AHIA will often put on product trainings at educational events across the country. Some manufacturers even offer an online program for certification – contact your manufacture to find out what is available.

Baxter: A provider’s installation person is going to need some training, without exception. Most states are going to require that the person have some kind of manufacturer training. Our training has code aspects to it; sales aspects to teach the advantages and disadvantages of certain units; installation and troubleshooting. In certain states some require that an installer have an elevator contractor license, but that’s in a handful of states.

How does inventory work? Are providers relying on manufacturers to store the items?

Baxter: That’s more the case. In most cases VPLs are configured to order, so from a lead time standpoint they would work with a homeowner to secure a permit and getting drawings done — and we do a lot of the drawings to help them out — then they get a formal quote, they sign off on it, and we build and ship it. That would be shipped to the dealer, and they would arrange a time to have it installed.

What kind of code/licensure issues must providers consider?

Henderson: It is very important to know the codes in your area (state and city). There can be a lot of variance between states and even cities. Once you know what your local codes are, you are prepared for what will be required. Some areas may not require electrical permits when using a DC powered lift that does not require direct wiring into a circuit panel. The ability to have a contractor license when doing these types of home modifications is always a plus.

Baxter: There is a lot of code involved, so knowing the local code is critical.

Do providers need to offer financing options in order to help patients that might not have the capital to get a VPL?

Henderson: Financing options are always beneficial when dealing with consumer direct purchases. Often a VPL is only a portion of a complete accessibility solution. Having a financing program that can bundle equipment that is needed to make it more affordable is always a benefit.

Baxter: At the end of the day, these are products that aren’t covered by Medicare, so it’s a cash business. In lots of cases people would pay with their credit card or take out a second mortgage, or they would save up the money, or find donations, but there is financing available through lots of different lenders. We have one that we work with for our dealers in a third-party finance arrangement. They can turn a large outlay into monthly payments.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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