Problem Solvers

Catering to Wound Care Customers

Support surface providers can wield their in-depth product knowledge to great effect when helping wound care clinicians and their patients.

Providers of therapeutic support surfaces might not realize how well positioned they are to truly help wound care patients and their clinical referral partners with their DME offerings. Wound care patients require specific therapeutic benefits depending on the type and severity of their wound, and often referral partners are not aware of what’s available.

However, providers can sometimes feel a little trepidation when working with clinical wound care professionals because the care of wounds requires such dedicated and precise care. How can providers better cater to these partners and patient?

The first hump to overcome is committing to support surfaces, according to Karen Lerner, RN, MSN, ATP, CWS, regional vice president of pressure prevention for DME manufacturer Drive DeVilbiss Healthcare. Lerner has been involved with all manner of wound care for longer than 30 years. She notes that providers of support surfaces often don’t take the role of being a support surface specialist to heart in the way they should.

“Too many DME providers are doing Group 1 and Group 2 support surfaces ‘by accident,’” she says “They treat the support surface category the same way they might treat hospital beds, wheelchairs or walkers — they compete on service. Competing on service may be an effective way to get more business in some [DME] categories, but not in Group 1 and 2 surfaces.

“Providers who choose to take more than a reactive or transactional approach, and who progress beyond the role of ‘order fillers’ will be rewarded with a disproportionate share of referrals for one of the most profitable categories left in DME,” Lerner advises

Once fully committed, providers must next conquer any fears that they might not know enough clinical information, Lerner says.

“Providers don’t need to be clinicians to run a support surface business,” she says. “It’s helpful to understand what a pressure ulcer is and the basics of staging so they can interpret Local Coverage Determination requirements and determine whether a patient qualifies for a bed and seated support surface under Medicare.”

In other words, providers don’t have to know how to stage pressure ulcers, but they should understand the basics of staging so that they’re not a “deer in the headlights” when staging is mentioned in the health records, Lerner explains.

In fact, Lerner says the recently implemented ICD 10 codes provide precise information regarding pressure ulcers that make it easier for providers to qualify beneficiaries for bed and seated support surfaces. The ICD-10 code for pressure ulcer is L89, she explains, and that code includes specific location and wound depth or stage. So, for example, L89.133 denotes a pressure ulcer of right lower back, stage 3. Beneficiaries with L89.133 would qualify for and benefit from a skin protection cushion (if they had and qualified for a wheelchair via Medicare) and group 2 support surface, she explains.

Ultimately, It comes down to understanding the language and then understanding what product solutions would correlate with that wound. And that’s a good role for the provider to fulfill, because at it turns out their counterparts on the clinical side of the fence can really benefit from the product knowledge that engaged providers will amass.

“Sometimes non-clinicians are afraid to think confidently that they could ever give advice to a highly educated clinician, physician or nurse practitioner, and they will shy away from it,” Lerner says. “But most clinicians have absolutely no clue what support surfaces there are, how to differentiate them, and they nearly never know coverage criteria.”

In fact, many times a clinician will order a low air loss mattress without even really knowing what a low air loss mattress is or does, Lerner says. This puts the provider in an excellent position to educate the clinician and establish itself as an informed, expert resource.

In terms of education, providers don’t necessarily need special education or certification on the team, but coverage knowledge will definitely in providing knowledgeable services for both patients and referral partners. Lerner suggests providers definitely understand coverage criteria and guidelines for health record charting and documentation.

“It helps if someone understands words such as periwound, exudate, eschar, slough, and the like,” she says.

So, how to get started? Providers should ensure they fulfill three very basic requirements to ensure they develop a successful referral partner education program, according to Lerner:

  • Learn the medical justification needed to qualify a patient for both Group 1 and 2 surfaces and various cushions, so they can educate referring clinicians.
  • Learn objective information about each support surface technology and teach referral partners the advantages and limitations of each.
  • Understand how to match a specific product’s features to benefit a specific patient population.

Ultimately, it all comes down to possessing rock-solid product knowledge and being able to communicate that information to the clinician. This lets the provider become an educator and a facilitator.

“By understanding simple, objective information about the various existing support surface technologies, DME providers can serve as equipment experts for referral sources,” Lerner advises. “We can teach clinicians how to match the right technology, the right therapy, and the right product to the appropriate patient. This will transform a DME provider’s brand from ‘order filler’ to ‘consultative expert and partner.’”

Filling that particularly niche in a competitive DME marketplace is exactly where smart providers need to be.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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