2016 HME Handbook

How to Expand Into Women's Health Services

Providers can’t enter women’s healthcare half-heartedly. They must create a business that strives to provide top-shelf care. What goes into that?

Womens Health ServicesIf there is an absolute mandate when it comes to running a modern HME provider business in this era of rampant Medicare reimbursement cuts, it is revenue diversification. Providers must strive to find new business opportunities and markets in which they can leverage their product and patient care expertise in order to reach new patient segments, as well as expand their relationships with existing patients. One area of diversification that offers solid opportunities to provide new products and services to both new and existing patients is women’s health.

Clearly, women’s health services represent a substantial amount of business for providers that want to specialize in serving women’s health needs. Representing 50 percent of the population, women have unique needs that require unique products and services. Why wouldn’t a provider business be attracted to that?

That said, women’s health, at least on the surface, represents uncharted territory for many HME provider owners and operators. It’s obvious that while women need general HME products and services, they also need specialized products and services that also require specialized product and care knowledge and unique customer service. How do interested providers approach this important business and patient care opportunity?

The first step into exploring the women’s health category is to understand that there it represents serious marketplace potential that requires serious attention. Providers can’t enter women’s healthcare half-heartedly. They must create a business that strives to provide top-shelf care and products for patients and referral partners alike. And that means laying a solid foundation in terms of market understanding, staff expertise, customer care and resources. Let’s take a closer look:

Understand the market dynamics. Going beyond the basic demographics in terms of the population size (49.1 percent of the population by last Census Bureau count), providers need to understand the major health conditions impacting women that they as HME providers can tap into. Bearing that in mind, the two biggest conditions affecting women’s health are maternity and breast cancer. By serving those two specific needs, providers can serve a large swath of their local women’s healthcare market.

Additionally, all the conditions that impact women — maternity, breast cancer, incontinence, COPD, and OSA, to name a few key health issues — all involve unique referral partners. This means that as a category, women’s health can help providers establish new referral relationships that could generate increased patient volume in other parts of their businesses as a whole.

Also, women’s unique health needs evolve over time, just like any other patient. So, as a provider serves 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. In other words, a maternity patient might someday require postmastectomy products or sleep or respiratory care. A provider that can provide solid service up-front will build solid relationships that can last through a continuum of diversified care.

Provide the right service via the right staff. Three key concepts come into providing women’s health services: comfort, discretion and trust. Many women’s health services require private discussion with a knowledgeable HME professional who is focused on understanding their needs. The clientele of a women’s healthcare business is going to have expectations about who will be caring for them.

This can create a “demographic challenge” of sorts for any providers that are owned and operated by men. A maternity patient or post-mastectomy patient might find it uncomfortable to discuss her condition and product needs with a man, who might not be as familiar with her health issues as a woman might. Moreover, even if a male member of the provider team knew those issues backwards and forwards, there still might be a discomfort level.

Bearing that in mind, it’s advisable that providers ensure that a woman leads their women’s health practices. A female customer service lead will help build the comfort and trust levels that women’s healthcare patients will expect, and can then dive in to ensure that those clients are getting the medical products and services that they need. And again, executed with the right kind of product and care knowledge, that lead will help build long-term relationships with those patients.

Word of mouth is critical. If a provider does provide the right service, it will pay dividends. Because many aspects of women’s health are private and require delicate and discrete service, providers need to understand that word of mouth will play a critical role in their success in terms of providing women’s health. Women’s health patients want to do business with a provider that takes their needs seriously and that they can trust. So if a breast cancer patient or a maternity patient feels like the provider is providing knowledgeable care that is tailored to her needs, there is a good chance that she will pass that information along to her peers and possibly a referring physician or similar healthcare professional. Moreover, don’t be afraid to ask for them to spread the word.

Know that breast cancer care is unique. Of all the conditions and care unique to women’s healthcare patients, the biggest learning curve that they will likely encounter will be breast cancer care and mastectomy supplies. It’s likely this category represents an unknown for most providers. There are a variety of products and issues related to breast cancer patients in particular that women’s healthcare providers should understand. Beyond the unique elements of post-mastectomy bras and prosthetics, 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. Also, breast cancer patients can be affected by lymphedema, which requires specific supplies, such as compression items.

And throughout the process, providing customer service that is caring, discrete and considerate will be critical in serving breast cancer patients. As always, providers must treat the patient relationship with the care it deserves.

Points to Remember:

  • Women’s health represents a major market opportunity for providers, but it requires unique care and consideration.
  • The market represents a variety of conditions that can help a provider reach all new patients and referral partners while also leveraging many existing relationships, as well.
  • Providers must provide service that focuses on care, comfort and discretion that many aspects of care require.
  • To deliver that kind of care, providers should consider electing a female team member to lead its women’s health practice.

Learn More:

  • A solid opportunity to learn more about women’s health issues, care and products is the next Focus conference, which is slated for Sept. 25-26 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. More information is at focus.essentiallywomen.com.

This article originally appeared in the June 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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