Orthopedic Products: At Your Service
There are a wide variety of customers that need orthopedic products. How can smart DME pharmacies serve that need?
- By David Kopf
- Dec 01, 2019
DME pharmacies act as a healthcare hub for their local communities
— they are the first resource someone thinks of
when they have a non-urgent health issue or when they
need medical supplies. That means pharmacies must be
able to serve up a wide spectrum of products. That spectrum
should include orthopedic products.
As a service, orthopedics offers serious potential because of its diverse
customer base and because most orthopedic patients need more than
one item. There are a wide variety of patient groups that are served by
orthopedic goods: rehab patients, customers who are recovering from
injuries, people suffering from sports injuries, athletic clients that need
special support, post-surgery patients, maternity patients, and the senior
population. Each of these clients needs specific items. For instance, athletic
patients could need wrist, ankle, and knee braces, back supports, or,
if they’ve suffered an injury, they could need ice packs, or slings.
When it comes to funded items, orthopedic goods often meet the
criteria for reimbursement and are more often covered than not when
prescribed as medically necessary. Also, when orthopedics are prescribed,
there are many complementary items pharmacies can sell on a
retail basis along with the funded products to increase their profits. For
instance, when a patient is prescribed a knee brace, staff can suggest
custom orthotic shoe inserts, heating pads, analgesics and knee wedges,
and then sell those items on a cash basis.
THE ORTHOPEDIC MARKET
But if anything, it’s the numbers that really sell orthopedic as a revenue
generator for pharmacies. There is a thriving customer base: Seniors are
living longer; young adults and baby boomers aren’t slowing down, continuing
to engage in sports and other challenging physical activity; and
children and teenagers are participating in club and high school sports, as
well as so-called action sports, such as skateboarding and snowboarding.
Those groups have fostered a growing orthopedic soft goods market.
Look at these statistics:
- According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, acute
ankle injuries are one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in
athletes and sedentary people, accounting for 2 million injuries per year.
Nearly half of all ankle sprains occur during athletic activity. And once you
sprain an ankle, you are more susceptible for repeat injuries.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2015 that sprains and strains
from overextension in lifting accounted for 31 percent of worker injury claims.
- U.S. construction workers are at high risk for on-the-job injuries to
muscles, tendons, joints, and nerves, according to a report in Occupational
and Environmental Medicine.
- The New York Times reported that Baby Boomers are staying active
and getting the sprains and strains to prove it. Sports-related injuries in
this age group went up 33 percent over a seven-year period while boomers
come to the realization that the older they get, the longer it takes to heal.
- The CDC says that an estimated 54.4 million U.S. adults (22.7 percent)
had been told they have some sort of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout,
lupus or fibromyalgia. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome affects 2.7 percent to 5.8 percent of the adult
population, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
- Skateboarding injuries in 2011 accounted for 78,000 emergency
room visits, says the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
The common denominator for this growing population of people
susceptible to strains and sprains is that products like wraps, bracing and
compression are effective for recovery and prevention. The opportunity
to jump into or grow your share of this massive space is there — but to
be successful in gaining market share, pharmacies need to find a way to
maximize their marketing.
The numbers don’t lie: there’s a healthy market and pharmacies are in
an excellent position to tap into it.
PATIENTS AND PRODUCTS
Pharmacies looking to serve orthopedic needs must stock a wide range of
offerings that will appeal to the varied needs of changing patient groups
and funding circumstances. And again, because there is such a wide array
of orthopedic solutions to suit various patients and conditions. Management
must ensure that their pharmacy provides adequate inventory of key
solutions for patients, and it must also ensure that its staff is well versed
on those products in terms of features and benefits. If your vendors offer
any kind of product education, take advantage of it.
So which products are ideal for the different patient groups? Well, let’s
break each segment down and review the products that are right for them:
Rehab patients — These patients will need orthopedic offerings that
focus on the Wrist, ankle, knee, back, and neck. Ice packs, heat pads and
other pain relief products, possibly including TENS units, are good pairings,
Athletic patients — These are patients that regularly engage in athletic
activities, as well as those who might be weekend warriors. In fact, America
has become so fitness-focused that a large segment of the orthopedic market
really caters to just these users. Like rehab patients, good products for
this niche are wrist, ankle, knee, back supports, and arm slings. Ice packs,
and again, pain relief products are ideal for this group.
Seniors — Many of the orthopedic offerings provided to this group
will address both new and chronic conditions. Moreover, there’s a good
chance that there will be multiple “clients” involved in the sale, such as
family and caregivers. Common orthopedic offerings used by seniors address
the ankle, wrist, elbow, and shoulder, as well as immobilizers.
Post-surgery patients — This is a key funded group of patients, who
need orthopedic offerings to assist in their post-surgical recuperation.
Referral partner marketing will be key in this scenario. These patients will
need items for abdominal support, knees, ankles and arm slings.
Maternity patients — This will be a particularly important category for
pharmacies striving to specialize in women’s health, but shouldn’t be ignored
by other pharmacies at all. These patients benefit from items such
as back supports and prenatal cradles.
General injuries — There are a lot of weekend warriors, do it yourselfers,
and everyday people who wind up injuring themselves either in
the pursuit of fun, chores, or simply by accident. Many of these patients
are self-treating and looking for an expert who can provide some solid
advice. To help these patients, pharmacies should stock a wide range of
items, such as wrist, back support, ankle, knee, elbows, arm slings, and
cervical collars, as well as the aforementioned pain relief products.
It’s also important to consider looks when it comes to orthopedic
products. Today’s orthopedic offerings clearly are the result of not just
solid medical research, but product design, as well. They deliver a therapeutic
benefit while looking good. It is key for pharmacies to consider
their customers and then think about how they will respond to not just the
features and benefits of any given orthopedic product, but how they will
feel about wearing it. Will it match their lifestyle, their aesthetic sensibilities,
or their fashion tastes? These are actually considerations that truly
matter, and a pharmacy should take them seriously when stocking their
PROVIDING SOLID SERVICE
In terms of the actual sales and service process, pharmacies serving orthopedic
customers should strive for their teams to use a consultative sales
and service approach. Staff should know the features and benefits of key
products and be able to effectively communicate that with customers.
The range of orthopedic options can be staggering, and understanding
their applicability to various conditions is critical because it is very
likely that customers will be confused by the wide spectrum of product
choices. This puts pharmacies in an excellent position to leverage their
expertise to truly help a patient and establish a solid and lasting relationship.
One of the key ways a pharmacy can start that process is to simply
listen and ask open-ended questions that can get the patient to open
up about his or her condition and describe his or her problems in detail.
Once you have a solid sense of the situation, you can start to make
This means pharmacies must train their customer service representatives
are thoroughly trained. In addition to in-house training, pharmacies
should work with manufacturers and other third-party educators, as well.
The goal is to make your team members product gurus who can make the
right recommendations to customers so that they have confidence those
customers will walk out of the store with an orthopedic offering that will
provide the right therapeutic benefit and that the customer will truly like
MERCHANDISING ORTHOPEDIC OFFERINGS
In terms of how pharmacies should sock their shelves, in basic terms, they
should have the products arranged by patient need and to ensure that
everything is adequately stocked, not just in terms of type, but also size,
color, and style where applicable. But since many of these customers are
going to be retail, pharmacies must take their merchandising far beyond
The pharmacy must create a “retail experience” that will drive increased
sales. When orthopedic customers come to the pharmacy’s retail
location with cash sales in mind, they will expect the same kind of experience
they get from a store in the local mall. A funded patient comes
to the pharmacy with a prescription and set expectations. A cash sales
customer is looking for options, information and a range of solutions that
can help make an informed purchase.
Bearing that in mind, the showroom must also feel inviting, comfortable,
and in a way, empowering. The retail orthopedic customer wants to
be able to know that she can get help, but at the same time feel like he is
in charge. A smart showroom can help instill all these components of the
You want to put clients in the driver’s seat. Make sure to provide helpful
signage that can help patients find what they need, and offer as much
in-store product education through displays, posters, brochures and similar
offerings. The more education you can provide, the better. The showroom
should educate patients on the benefits of your inventory to ensure they get
the right product to support their needs. Done right, those kinds of educational
displays can support the staff’s sales and service process, as well.
Ultimately, orthopedics represents a key product category for pharmacies,
both in terms of expanding retail and funded revenue. The key is to
avoid swinging the door open and rushing in. Instead, get a solid sense
of the landscape and then take a cautious, well-researched step across
This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy December 2019 issue of HME Business.