Problem Solvers

Entering Women's Health Services

Serving women's health needs can open providers up to a whole new spectrum of patients and referral partners. How do they get started?

As providers strive to find new business niches that let them leverage their expertise in order to reach new patient segments, one area of specialization that offers multiple opportunities to provide all new products and services is women’s health.

However, for many providers, women’s health doesn’t just represent new opportunities, it also represents the great unknown. How do interested providers enter this important patient segment?

Solid Business Potential

In very basic terms, there is a considerable amount of business to be made when it comes to women’s health, according to Christa Miehe, president of Essentially Women, a buying group and member service organization for providers that specialize in serving women’s health needs. (Essentially Women was recently purchased by VGM Group Inc. in January.)

“From a basic supply-and-demand perspective, there is a huge need for women’s healthcare products, and it is an underserved market,” she says. “There aren’t as many providers that do this, and part of that is because it is a niche market.”

Miehe explains that the products that cater specifically to women’s health needs differ from other more general HME offerings, which means that providers need to add some specialized inventory and knowledge.

“It does take an effort to segue into including women’s healthcare in your product line, but the business is there; the patients are there,” she explains. “It’s a good way to serve your community of [related healthcare providers] by having what they need.”

In terms of patient demographics, the two biggest conditions affecting women’s health are pregnancy and breast cancer, which means providers can serve a large swath of their local women’s healthcare market by serving those two specific needs.

Moreover, maternity, breast cancer, incontinence, COPD, OSA and other conditions that impact women all have unique referral partners, so women’s health also means establishing new referral relationships that could generate increased patient volume in other parts of their businesses.

“These are patients that will come from, for example, healthcare liaisons in cancer centers that help guide patients and provide them with referrals,” Miehe explains. “Twenty-year-old maternity patients and 65-year-old breast cancer patients are different from the regular crowd for whom HMEs are getting referrals.”

In fact, if providers can start by specializing in maternity needs, such as breast pumps, it means they have the can start cementing long-term patient relationships and solid word of mouth.

“Maternity patients are young,” Miehe says. “If you can provide something that is useful to them then they’re a potential customer for 30 years to come. It’s a way to solidify your company as ‘the’ provider in your community.”

And, as providers serve one patient need, that same patient will likely return with other needs later on down the road, assuming the provider expands its women’s health services and product offerings to appeal to the continuum of care for women’s health.

“It’s an opportunity to have customers for life,” Miehe observers. “People want to do business with businesses they like and they trust. If you build a relationship with your patients early on, they will keep coming back.”

And, Miehe adds that besides being clients, women are often the caregivers in other situations, so that element of trust can go a long way toward generating additional secondary business from the same women’s health client.

Addressing Comfort Levels

Of course, comfort is a critical element in creating that trust. One hitch for provider owners and operators who are men is that there might be a certain level of discomfort in serving women’s healthcare needs due to the unfamiliarity with those health issues. Also, the clientele of a women’s healthcare business is going to have certain expectations about who will be caring for them.

“Lots of business owners are not women, and women want to be fitted for their mastectomy bra by a woman,” Miehe explains. “I do think there are some demographic challenges that our market has had with that, but I assure you that every provider has a woman on staff that could fill the role of being the customer service rep for those products in their stores.”

Providers must identify who on their staff will be the company’s women’s health champion and then work to develop that team member to ensure she understands the health issues and the products; is going to be customer service-oriented; and comfortable building relationships with the patient group.

Breast Cancer

While many providers might have some level of familiarity when it comes to maternity products, such as breast pumps and related supplies, breast cancer and mastectomy supplies might represent more of an unknown for providers.

There are a variety of products and issues related to breast cancer patients in particular that women’s healthcare providers should understand, according to Miehe. For starters, that market is affected by lymphedema, which requires specific supplies, such as compression items. Also, because those patients can be exposed to radiation treatment, there are various skin care product lines available to those patients. Wigs, hats, scarves and other head coverings are also important to patients undergoing chemotherapy.

In all respects, providing customer service that is caring, discrete and considerate is critical for breast cancer patients. Again, the context of care can really impact the relationship.

“Being fitted for a mastectomy bra is obviously very private and requires lots of discretion,” Miehe says. “You need your fitter to be experienced and to have lots of compassion. Those types of trusting relationships between the provider and the patient can open the door to conversations such as, ‘Hey, I also have this other discrete problem, and I don’t want to show up at my local pharmacy and announce it to everybody — is this something you can help me with?’”

Getting Started

Ultimately, serving the women’s health market comes down to taking the market seriously and giving it the attention and care that it deserves. If a provider realizes the importance and the size of the opportunity, and devotes the right staff resources to women’s health, it can chart a course to success.

“All they have to do is see the opportunity,” Miehe says. “The opportunity is there. The business will be there; it will come in the door if you can serve that market.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 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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