Must-Stock Retail DME Categories

What DME items should be sitting on your retail shelves? We take a look at some key product categories that any pharmacy specializing in DME products should offer.

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While funded DME and retail items might have lived in two different worlds before, these days, providing both DME and retail products go hand-in-hand. While a lot of DME is reimbursable, nearly all of it is being sold on a retail basis, as well. Moreover, there are long lists of retail-only products that have been developed as items that complement existing DME categories.

And most importantly, customers want these items and are willing to pay cash for them. That means DME pharmacies must stock product offerings that attract clients with clear and obvious benefits. Ultimately, patients should take one look at these sorts of products and think, “this solves my problem.”

Bearing that in mind, we’ve explored some retail-ready DME categories that are sure to make a difference with your customers. They include home access for seniors, bath safety offerings, incontinence products, pain management solutions, walking aids, compression items, orthotics and orthopedic items. Take a look at how you might be able to fit them into your retail lineup.

BATH SAFETY

More than 80 percent of home accidents occur in the bathroom, according to the National Safety Council. Fortunately, bath safety products don’t have to cost a lot to make big differences for aging-in-place seniors.

For starters, grab bars are critical. They should be strategically located in and around the bathing area, as well as around the toilet. This has two benefits: it ensures that the patient is supported and kept safe from a fall, but it also helps the patient gently lower and raise himself or herself while bathing or using the toilet. In terms of the toilet, ideally, the patient would use a raised toilet so that he or she does not have far to travel when rising or lowering. Commode lifts are another option in this case.

For the bathing area, the ideal situation would be to have a bathing stool or bench that the senior can use in conjunction with a handheld shower to protect against falls. Along with the aforementioned grab bars, the shower floor should be lined with non-slip material or strips. In general, it also is a good idea to avoid having bathmats or other items on the floor that could cause a fall. Also, another bathing option could be a bath lift, which raises and lowers the client into the tub.

Also, ensure that the bathroom is brightly lit and that there is a bright enough night light to help the patient negotiate the bathroom at night when poor vision could otherwise contribute to a fall. If possible, situate a chair or stool in the bathroom that the senior can use while grooming themselves or applying makeup, and ensure there are nearby grab bars, as well. Lights and stools are simple, non-DME products pharmacies can stock that pay major bath safety dividends.

SENIOR HOME ACCESS

For lots of patient groups, home access means being able to access the home, period. But for seniors, home access means maintaining their independence, as well as their safety.

As a rule of thumb, one in three U.S. seniors falls each year, and a fall in the home can have serious medical repercussions for an older person. Even slight falls can result in significant injuries, and the likelihood of falls can increase due to environmental factors and issues such as physical instability, and depending on the situation, mental impairments.

Moreover, the kinds of chronic conditions often served by DME pharmacies provide a contributing role in seniors’ risk for falls. Seniors with chronic conditions fall more frequently, including patients with diseases unrelated to mobility, such as COPD or diabetes, according to data from emergency alert company Philips Lifeline.

For any senior that has mobility issues that require assistance entering the home, ramps are a key product consideration. Simply put, ramps make safe home access possible and are a key retail category for pharmacies serving seniors. In many cases, this could simply involve a basic threshold ramp, but others cases, such as when the door is raised off the ground, could require a ramp installation.

Now, installing ramps can seem like an intimidating learning curve to a DME pharmacy, and with the codes and contracting knowledge involved, there is good reason for that. However, a good solution is partnering up. If a pharmacy doesn’t want to invest in all the tools and equipment and construction knowledge, it should consider partnering with a local handyman or construction company that is already doing accessibility work. Look for a company with staff assets, tools truck, license and knowledge, and then the pharmacy can play to its strengths in terms of understanding the senior’s access needs.

COMPRESSION

Many pharmacies are starting to hop on the compression train. There’s good reason to do it: with most of its revenue derived from retail sales, compression lets pharmacies expand revenues while serving both existing patients, as well as giving them an opportunity to reach out to and new clients and drive new business.

As compression providers know, it is a solid cash sales category serving a number of patient groups that are regular HME customers. A wide range of compression garments and wraps are used to treat conditions including foot swelling, mild edema, varicose veins, thrombosis, varicosities of varying severities, and diabetes. Moreover, there are a number of related products, such as donning and doffing devices to help patients, particularly those with reaching and stretching limitations, put on and take off their compression garments.

With the right product and care education, any pharmacy can offer compression, but the key lies in maximizing the opportunity. To do that, pharmacies need to understand how large a role factors such as merchandising and marketing play in a successful compression business.

The worldwide compression market is projected to swell from $2.4 billion in 2012 to $3.4 billion in 2019, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1 percent, according to “Compression Therapy Market to 2019,” from research and consulting firm GlobalData. Better yet, in 2012, the United States was home to the largest market for compression therapy, with 49 percent of the market revenue. GlobalData’s report forecasts the U.S. compression market will grow from $1 billion in 2012 to $1.6 billion in 2019, at a CAGR of 6 percent. Those market numbers are certainly hard to ignore.

What’s driving that growth? Increasing populations of diabetic patients and elderly patients with venous diseases, according to GlobalData’s report. These are patient groups with whom most pharmacies do a considerable amount of business. With a clear market opportunity and existing patient relationships already in place, many pharmacies likely find themselves in a prime position to tap into compression services.

That said, also think outside the box. There are non-healthcare markets that are also interested in compressional garments. The athletic market is a perfect example: runners, triathletes, older athletes and other sporty types can benefit greatly from lighter compression hosiery, sleeves and other garments. While nontraditional for HME, they represent a don’t-miss market opportunity.

While compression garments provide a therapeutic benefit, compression providers must remember that at the end of the day, patients consider these items are clothing, so fashion plays a role — and in many cases a strong role. Bearing that in mind, who wants a drawer full of just one color hose or stockings? Therapy or not, people want to feel that what they’re wearing makes them look good, not just feel good. Bearing that in mind, provide a wide range of product types, sizes, colors and styles. In fact, color and style are more important than pharmacies might initially realize. Compression garment manufacturers are well aware of your customers’ desire for a wide range of choices, and are constantly updating their range to address seasonal changes and fashion trends.

Display the products in an attractive and engaging fashion, perhaps showing how your compression garments can pair up with other articles of clothing. Also, change your displays on a regular basis to keep things looking fresh and new. (Consider taking a trip to the local mall or department store to get ideas on how to display your items.) Provide signage and product information to help the products do the selling if staff are attending to other customers. Focus on product packaging, which can often be as important as the “look” of the actual compression garments. Seek out products that are packaged like other retail items.

Also, if you are reaching out to diverse groups of compression users, make sure that your merchandising reflects that. For instance, if you are serving athletic users, as well as seniors, you might want to create separate merchandising that appeals to both sets of customers.

PAIN MANAGEMENT

There is a wide variety of pain management patients and clients that suffer a wide variety of conditions that DME pharmacies can help address. Also, no two clients need exactly the same paint management solution. Referral partners and patients will have specific desires when it comes to which solutions will be right.

So, a pharmacy must ensure it offers a decent spectrum of pain management products to help clients discover the solution that best fits their needs. There are some key product categories that a pharmacy specializing in pain management products should offer:

Compression
As mentioned earlier, compression is often used to help treat diabetic patients and elderly patients with venous diseases, as well as wound care lymphedema patients. However, compression, typically using wraps, can also help with pain management by reducing swelling and promoting circulation.

Orthopedic Braces
Another bedrock DME category, orthopedic braces provide the kind of support that many injuries need to recover. Moreover, that support helps diminish pain through stabilizing a part of the body that has been injured and limiting motion, which in turn limits inflammation.

TENS Units
Standing for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, TENS devices use electrodes attached to the user’s skin via adhesive pads. The electrodes send electrical impulses that flood the user’s nerves and make it hard for the nervous system to transmit pain signals.

Because they are so small in size, TENS units can be worn discreetly and used by patients throughout the day. These units have controls that let the user control the intensity of the stimulation, the frequency of the stimulation (impulses per second), and duration (in milliseconds) of each pulse.

EMS Devices
Standing for electrical muscle stimulation, EMS devices might seem similar to TENS units in terms of their format — a small device with electrodes connected to adhesive pads that users attach to their skin — but that’s where the similarity ends. EMS devices are designed to stimulate muscles so that they contract. The result is that blood flow is increased to the area, which reduces inflammation. The devices can also be used to reduce muscle spasms.

Hot and Cold Therapy
There are various products that use ether heat or cold to reduce pain. Heat tends to relax sore muscles and joints, while cold helps numb pain and reduce inflammation. The available products range from simple heat packs and cold packs, to specialized devices that pump hot or cold water to special wraps or sleeves that are placed around the part of the body feeling pain. Furthermore, there are hot and cold therapy products that also integrate compression so that they provide multiple pain management benefits.

Over-the-counter medications
Obviously, we’re all very familiar with over-the-counter pain killers and antiinflammatory products. This includes topical products, such as creams and lotions, as well as pills ranging from aspirin to Ibuprofen.

CBD Products
CBD is one of the compounds called cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. The cannabinoid most everyone has heard of is THC, the psychoactive component in recreational marijuana. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is the cannabinoid often used in managing chronic pain, insomnia and anxiety. Using CBD to manage pain is analogous to using an over-the-counter pain killer; the pain is simply diminished and there is no “high.”

CBD products are sold in varying dosages that might or might not contain very small percentages of THC, as well. The products range from tinctures taken under the tongue, capsules, gummies and lotions. Depending on what state a pharmacy is in, it can sell it on a retail basis.

INCONTINENCE

DME pharmacies understand that incontinence is a common issue. In fact, the National Association for Incontinence estimates that 25 million adults experience some form of urinary incontinence. Despite the large number of people that deal with incontinence, the stigma surrounding the issue remains, leaving consumers of incontinence products feeling embarrassed when looking for a product that best suits them. The way that HME pharmacies showcase their incontinence products can go a long way in helping these consumers find what they need.

That said, no two incontinence patients are alike. Often have specific needs that can be solved by specific product solutions. In a survey conducted by ParentGiving.com, an online organization and resource dedicated to caregiver support, incontinence consumers noted lack of products as being a top concern when attempting to manage incontinence. When customers can find the right products for them, they feel more confident they can avoid accidents and will lead their lives more fully and independently.

So it’s key for DME pharmacies to stock a well-rounded range of incontinence products. Look beyond the national name brands and ensure you know all the offerings on the market.

In stocking incontinence offerings, pharmacies can use signage to make it easier for customers to know that incontinence solutions are available and where they are located in the store. Customers who prefer discretion when shopping for incontinence products will appreciate a clearly marked store where they can navigate to the products without having to ask a lot of questions.

Also, consider offering a private place where staff can discuss incontinence offerings with clients in a way that makes them feel less self-conscious about discussing their issues, needs and preferences.

ORTHOTICS AND ORTHOPEDICS

Orthotics and orthopedic devices cover a wide range of products, including footwear, splints and braces, and posture support. Though some orthopedic and orthotic products are reimbursable through Medicare or private pay insurance, customers aren’t always able to get the items they want or the items that best individually suit them. Customers also don’t want to wait for reimbursement before they can have access to the products that they need. This means pharmacies are in an ideal position to fill a customer need while increasing cash sales.

Moreover, there are more customers for these goods than might you might initially think. For instance, athletes are a large consumer base for orthotic products, such as knee braces and wrist splints. Stoking products strategically around those needs can be very effective for the DME pharmacy stoking those items. For instance, it could rotate orthotic displays by the injuries and aches related to specific sports seasons. The pharmacy could, for example, stock braces for treating shin splints for runners and soccer players during peak times of the year when those sports are in season.

These types of products come in different sizes, and arranging the display by size helps customers find the size they need more easily. Having
staff on hand to guide customers through their purchases will ensure that they are fitted properly.

Video is also a good selling and educational tool. Pharmacies that sell orthotics should ask their suppliers if they provide any sort of video to accompany their products.

But all that must supplement knowledgeable staff. Whether pharmacies sell braces, supports or footwear, having staff that is knowledgeable in the products and in sizing is key. Fitting customers with the product the product that suits them not only cuts down on returns but also creates loyal customers who will see the benefit of coming into the store for their products rather than purchasing online.

WALKING AIDS

For many seniors and people with limited mobility, walking aids are a daily need that DME pharmacies are well-positioned to meet. People who require walking aids use different kinds of devices depending on their needs, typically ranging from canes to walkers to rollators. Also, a customer might not want to wait or can’t wait to have their product ordered, delivered and sometimes assembled; providing these products in-store opens a range of options for customers.

Ideally, a DME pharmacy should stock its walking aids in a way that clients can view and try them out all the options. Being able to see how one rollator or another works, for example, helps the customer make an informed decision. That kind of display helps demonstrate how the items work, and the customer can really get a sense overview of the options and be able to make an informed purchase. Basically, if a DME pharmacy stocks a product, at least one should be on the floor for customers to see and try.

That said, large and extensive product displays might not be not possible in smaller pharmacies. But those pharmacies can find ways to work with the space that they do have. If display space is limited, be sure that walkers and rollators are not strapped down or elevated on a shelf. Even with smaller display space, a customer should still be able to touch and try the product.

Smaller pharmacies could also consider a video supplement when having the product open and available is not an option. That way if customers do miss seeing the product, they can least see it in use on the video monitor.

This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy December 2021 issue of HME Business.

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