The Go To Advisor for the Incontinent Consumer

For so many home health products, the homecare dealer plays a vital role as educator, problem-solver and consultant for caregivers and for product users. In fact, in a recent research study conducted by TENA®/SCA Personal Care, most homecare dealers said that their ability to personally provide advice on product selection and usage was very important to their business success. This is particularly true for incontinence products, where consumers are often confused about what they actually need and what products best match with those needs. In many cases, the homecare customer has little or no obvious source of clinical help to sort through incontinence management decisions.

Homecare dealers rate incontinence as a key category for their own business growth and success for several reasons. Most importantly, with the aging of the population, this is a fast-growth segment of the market. Currently, 25 million Americans have bladder control problems and up to 30 percent of community-dwelling adults do as well, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Incontinence product sales represent repeat business and a real opportunity for dealers to differentiate themselves by providing consultative services to their customers.

Even those customers who have access to the Internet and who can perform medically-related searches do not necessarily have the knowledge to help them select the right product, use it correctly or learn to live with the condition while maintaining their dignity. There is a broad range of products that can be confusing to choose from without special help. That's why many customers still rely on the home health dealer for the products, knowledge and the sensitivity they need to have a satisfying experience.

How can the dealer fulfill these needs in the coming months and years? By staying current with the trends and best practice recommendations of the industry, dealers position themselves as reliable sources of valuable, practical advice. By using the many customer education and self-help tools offered by manufacturers, dealers can assist their customers in meeting the challenging needs of homecare incontinence management.

Many successful dealers have made it a point to be knowledgeable and to have a consultative relationship with their incontinence customers. Here are a few of the areas in which they excel with the right knowledge, service and products that their customers need.

  • Maintain patient privacy and dignity.
  • Smart dealers know that their patients can be very embarrassed about their incontinence and do not want to be seen accepting deliveries of clearly marked adult incontinence products to their homes. To meet this need, some manufacturers offer discreet packaging. This is doubly useful to the dealer: it satisfies the customers' needs and doesn't take any additional time or effort on the dealer's part to do so.

    *Be familiar with educational packaging and materials.

    Most manufacturers have Web sites that provide some fundamental information about incontinence or bladder control issues. Also ask your manufacturers to provide you with materials that give practical advice for sufferers or caregivers to share with your customers. These materials are usually written in non-clinical language for the average homecare patient to understand.

    In addition, the individual product packages themselves can be useful in determining what level of absorbency is needed to actually manage the incontinent person's problem. Some packaging is excellent at demonstrating, in clearly readable symbols that are consistent from product to product, what might be the best choices for your patients. Since terms like Extra, Plus, Max, Ultra and Super can be interpreted in many ways and exist without hierarchy, good packaging can tell you and your customers what you really want to know: which products absorb a little, a medium amount and which products absorb the most.

    Sharing these materials is very helpful and can assist you in responding to requests for the advertised-on-TV brand that you may not carry. In fact, these brands may not actually work best for your customer's incontinence management or available budget.

    *Make product choices that are best for the user.

    Incontinence products have changed dramatically since they were first introduced to the community and into long-term care. The first big technological breakthroughs were centered on capacity..."how much will it hold?" However, in order to meet the demand for sheer capacity and absorbency, products were very large and used plastic extensively on the garment. In the 1980's Johnson & Johnson developed the Skin-Caring® Brief with "breathable" side panels. Without sacrificing absorbency or capacity, they also added their own patented level of super-absorbents to deal with the detrimental effects of product bulk and extensive plastic on fragile skin. Today, incontinence products from the major manufacturers are sleeker, absorb significant amounts of liquid and generally perform much better than earlier versions.

    Today, clinicians and caregivers are focused on achieving skin-friendly incontinence care while still getting absorbency, large capacity and leakage protection. Spencer Deane, vice president of marketing, SCA North America Health Care explains, "The skin is the body's first line of defense for protecting its health. Older skin is more fragile and vulnerable, and the best incontinence products will create the most natural skin environment possible. That means product features that draw heat and incontinence by-products, such as ammonia, away from skin. This not only means less skin breakdown and heat build-up; but it also means products that are soft, comfortable, fit well and contribute to each user's dignity and confidence."

    Here are the guideposts for providing this level of performance and well being to your customers:

  • Offer a breathable non-woven outer cover.
  • This allows for a soft, comfortable product next to the skin. This quieter construction allows community-dwelling incontinent people to participate in daily life without the embarrassing rustle of the garments with more plastic. This sheet should cover the whole garment, not just side panels.

    The newest skin-friendly technology keeps liquids and odors in the garment while allowing heat and water vapor to pass through. The benefit is to keep the skin drier, cooler and more comfortable. And those conditions help eliminate skin breakdown.

  • Feature fast drying and absorbent technology.
  • This feature pulls liquid into the garment quickly to minimize contact of the liquids on the skin. The liquid is then pulled into the product and locked in with super-absorbent gel so that it does not resurface when a person sits or shifts position.

    Again, this technology is created to keep skin/urine contact as minimal as possible so that skin is not wet, does not become macerated or allow ammonia to develop and further damage fragile skin.

  • Have faster, easier to apply products that fit well for comfort and maximum leakage control.
  • Not everyone is shaped the same and getting garments on can be a challenge. If the garment does not fit as designed, it might leak and cause discomfort, soiled linens and it can create tripping and falling hazards on wet floors.

    Today's best products have zoned areas for the waist to be fitted properly and repositioned if the fit isn't exactly right the first time. This repositioning tape feature also allows people to toilet when appropriate without having to put a new brief on if the original is not soiled. That can add up to a real money-saver for patients and help encourage people to toilet whenever they can.

    For your customers, the best advice you can share with them is to wear products that give them all the protection they need, but also maintain good skin health. Wearing incontinence products can be an emotionally-trying situation for anybody. If you take these few simple steps, you can have a major impact on the consumer's emotional well-being as well as the health of their skin.

    This article originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of HME Business.

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