Problem Solvers

Staying in the Game

Creating patient outreach efforts that help diabetes providers thrive.

Diabetes providers face a number of formidable challenges: Competitive bidding has upended the Medicare market down; reimbursement on the whole is down; customer retention is difficult to say the least; and a flood of low-quality testing equipment and supplies have artificially reduced the cost model. It’s a wonder diabetes providers can stay in the game.

“It’s been a tumultuous year and a half,” says Terry Faherty, the eastern regional sales director of ARKRAY, adding that much of the tumult is due to the competitive bidding.

That said, while reimbursement is down, diabetes is still a sizable marketplace overall. In fact, the diabetes market represents more than $600 million to the DME industry, according to Faherty.

“We are seeing double digit growth in adult diabetes and even higher growth in adolescent diabetes, yet the HME market is losing share to retail and to the mail order components,” he says.

This means providers need to determine how they can go out and capture more of the market. Despite the grim reality of competitive bidding, this is very achievable, Faherty says. One of the ways providers can stay in the game, and also rise to the top is simply through engaging with their patients.

Customer Education

A key way to hold onto the business you have is through customer education strategies. This can take the form of educational pieces, giveaways, newsletters, email marketing, social media and similar efforts.

The powerful thing about customer education is that it comes at limited to no cost. In fact, many manufacturers will offer educational pieces and other collateral to providers to help them retain their providers in order to help them hang onto end users.

These pieces no only help providers simply keep their name in front of patients, but they also give the client information that can motivate them and truly help them take ownership of their condition and learn more about how they can manage their condition. This increases compliance and improves outcomes.

“It’s a big diagnosis, but it’s not unmanageable,” Faherty explains. “Those educational pieces are by far one of the strongest pieces providers can utilize.”

These products also show that the provider cares; that it’s not just trying to sell product, but that it actually cares and is invested in the patient’s treatment. That kind of effort helps cement client relationships for life.

Moreover, if the manufacturer supports those efforts, the provider could have more educational and informational resources available than it initially realized. So Faherty recommends providers work in concert with their manufacturers in these efforts to not only help existing clients, but build on that base at little to no cost.

Special Events

Faherty also recommends that providers engage in special events, such as World Diabetes Day (Nov. 14 of each year) to engage in outreach efforts to patients. This gives the provider a solid opportunity to engage in marketing and education efforts in the run up to the occasion, as well as conduct in-person patient engagement, such as providing demonstrations or special events at the store at different sites in the community.

“You really want to get the word out in advance, and really build your brand,” he says.

These events are especially important because they give providers an opportunity to get new diabetes technology in front of patients that might not be familiar with the latest advancements available to help them manage their conditions. This, of course, can result in new business as patients decide on upgrading their glucometers, and getting new test strips.

Value Marketing

Similar to educational efforts is value marketing. Value marketing efforts provide your client base with communications pieces that give them content that they will find helpful and value (hence the name).

“You want to develop marketing campaigns using media such as email, newsletter, or blogs that provide useful health information while highlighting your name and contact information,” Faherty says. “That way, every time you make a marketing impression with that campaign, customers will associate that value back to your brand. They know they’re getting more than just a product there.”

Branching Out

In addition to providing useful information, diabetes patients should also provide useful products. Diabetes doesn’t happen in a vacuum and patients need more than just than their testing equipment and supplies.

“Diabetics need a phenomenal amount of ancillary products,” Faherty says. “And these items still carry a good margin.”

Examples of the sorts of related products that help diabetic patients would be items such as compression socks, diabetic shoes and nutritional supplements. These sorts of items not only offer a wide range of resources for the clients, but they are typically purchased on a cash sales basis, which helps drive retail revenue to the bottom line that is not hampered by Medicare or other payor billing.

Ultimately, the reality for diabetes providers is that while competitive bidding has been difficult on HME providers, there remain a growing number of patients that need the kind of help providers can offer. All it takes is some dedicated patient outreach and education. If providers can manage that, they’ll not only benefit their patients, but their bottom line.

Learn More

Want to learn even more about staying in the diabetes game? Terry Faherty hosted a detailed webinar on the subject that is available as a free archive.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 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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