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?
- By David Kopf
- Jun 01, 2016
If 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
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.
- 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.
David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.