Editor's Note

HME's New Trailblazers

Pursuing retail sales has helped providers to think creatively and be open minded.

Retail sales truly have made a revolutionary impression on the home medical equipment industry. A decade ago, most HME providers likely gave little thought to retail sales, but now cash sales a clear strategic agenda item for nearly every provider business.

True, this retail revolution came about because the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services adopted a hack-and-slash approach to reimbursement cuts for HME and related supplies. But just because the genesis of the industry’s cash sales agenda arose in less-than-ideal circumstances, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the end result is a bad thing.

Retail sales have helped preserve provider businesses and have shown them that there is life after the “mostly Medicare” business model — and, in fact, that life can be pretty good. The key to enjoying that good life comes down to a willingness to learn many new lessons, and to think creatively.

And when it comes down to thinking creatively, that mean providers must explore new market opportunities. Certainly, a smart provider can enjoy a decent return supplementing its reimbursement revenue by offering cash items to its existing base of patients. In fact, any provider should do that. A smart HME operator will learn what retail offerings pair well with funded offerings in order to offer clients a complete array of equipment and supplies that can help them get the most from their therapy and life at home. For instance, anyone providing beds and therapeutic support surfaces should be offering a wide array of bedding, sheets, pillows and the like.

But providers can — and should — do more when it comes to retail sales. They need to think about how they can reach new markets and provide those customers with a wind range of retail health products that can help them. The provider can leverage its HME expertise to help those new clients understand the benefits of each offering in a way no other retailer can.

And if the category is particularly new? That’s not a bad thing. Providers have learned how to support respiratory care patients, mobility patients, and a wide variety of patients with complex, chronic healthcare conditions. So, HME professionals can certainly surmount new product and category learning curves. Moreover, gaining this new expertise and knowledge will only help cement a provider’s reputation for being a home medical product expert.

So what are some of the new cash categories that providers can pursue? For starters, orthopedic offerings offer an excellent way to broaden providers’ retail revenues and reach new patients. To that end, we devoted this issue’s cover story, “The Orthopedic Option” (turn to page 30), to explore how providers can tap into this important cash sale category. Let’s explore some others:

Sports rehab and therapy products are another excellent retail opportunity that is related to much of what providers do. Despite the growing trend of obesity in this nation, many Americans lead very active lifestyles, and sometimes their athletic pursuits can result in injury. That’s where providers can help. Many sports therapy/rehab products are items providers already supply, such as compression garments and especially stockings; braces, supports and other orthopedic offerings; as well as both stock and custom orthotics. And there are a number of related products, such as pain management, that will appeal to these customers. (Turn to page 38 to learn more.) Best of all, because providers are experts in health products, they can easily differentiate themselves from the local pharmacy or sporting good store.

Another solid retail opportunity would be women’s healthcare. To begin with, let’s look at maternity products. Items such as breast pumps and infant nutrition are items commonly bought at big box retailers, but if a provider is already specializing in women’s healthcare, why not offer these items — along with a wide array of other maternity- and baby-related products — to the women visiting its store? Similarly, post breast cancer is a key market. Women who might need post-mastectomy help are looking for caring, discreet, professional and above-all knowledgeable resources when exploring options such as breast prostheses. A smart provider will be there to help them in the right way.

Retail sales represents new ground through which savvy, adventurous providers will have to blaze new trails in order to restore and expand their revenues, their businesses, and perhaps their industry. The key for them will be to adopt an open mind and to think creatively about new markets and how to reach them.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 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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