Providing Incontinence Products the Right Way

Pharmacies wanting to increase their incontinence business and better serve their customers should look at what DME retailers are doing for this often-stigmatized patient segment.

According to the Urology Care Foundation, which is the Official Foundation of the American Urological Association, urinary incontinence affects between a quarter to a third of all U.S. men and women in the United States.

Important to understanding the retail of incontinence products is that urinary incontinence is not just a medical problem. The Urology Care Foundation said that It can affect emotional, psychological and social life. Many people who have urinary incontinence are afraid to do normal daily activities. They don’t want to be too far from a bathroom. Urinary incontinence can keep people from enjoying life and the embarrassment of the problem holds them back from getting help.

Ad Age called adult incontinence “one of the fasted growing categories in packaged good,” and that sales in this $1.6 billion business were up 12.7 percent for the four weeks ended March 21, 2016, vs. the same period a year ago.

Typically starting in the baby boomer years, incontinence is big business, but one that requires an understanding of the issue and staff who are caring and confident when dealing with patients who often feel stigmatized.

“Individuals suffering from incontinence range in age; however, the market is skewed older – ages 65 to older than 75, with females representing a larger percentage than men,” said Brendan McEvoy, product manager at Carex Health Brands, which provides home healthcare, bath safety and personal care products. “There are a wide range of conditions that can lead to problems with incontinence, including chronic conditions like diabetes or stroke; acute conditions, such as a urinary tract infection; and age-related conditions like bladder impairment or dementia. Individuals who are bedridden or are on certain medications may also suffer from and need to manage incontinence.”

But there is good news: according to the National Association for Continence, 80 percent of those affected by urinary incontinence can be cured or improved.

Challenges Providing Incontinence Products

A big problem with incontinence is many sufferers know little about their ailment and go through many products trying to find a way to solve their problem. The National Association for Continence said that the average wait time between symptoms and getting a diagnosis for incontinence is over six years. This can become very frustrating and costly for the patient.

“Like most HME products, many customers may not know you have the items they need or where to look,” McEvoy said. “Informing your customers that you are in the business and have products for them is important. Consider some form of outreach to your local community, through the web, social media and even direct marketing to let them know of the products that are available to them. It is also very important to educate your pharmacy staff and store clerks so they are knowledgeable about the products on the shelf and sensitive to the needs of the older consumer.”

Having a website to purchase online or a home delivery service are important for incontinence suffers who may not want to buy these products off the shelf. Some retailers have accommodated their customers by letting them pick up incontinence products behind the store.

But for those shopping in the pharmacy, here are some trips for making it a better shopping experience:

  • Provide privacy – Unlike the private counter space pharmacies may have for your customers picking up prescriptions, incontinence sufferers may want total privacy, so have a private area that takes the consultation off the floor. You should also have a private toilet and basin area, so customers can try samples for fit and comfort.
  • Train your staff – Maturity and compassion are key for successful consultation about incontinence. Also, get your staffed trained. Look at HME trade groups like VGM and The Med Group, or contact your state HME or pharmaceutical society to see if they offer workshops on the topic.
  • Learn how to deal with caregivers – Some incontinent patients will ask family members or friends to shop for incontinence products. Once you identify that the person looking for these products is an intermediary and not the patient, try to pursued the customer to come in with the patient. Ensure confidentiality and PRIVACY and how a discussion will better serve their needs than sending another person home with improper products.
  • Develop good business partners – Creating excellent relationship with physicians who treat incontinence patients can help increase your sales. Helping patients before they venture to a pharmacy by themselves to pick up needed products can help eliminate any isolation patients might feel and instill confidence in managing their problems.

“There are two types of purchasers, the older consumer and the caregiver,” McEvoy said. “The older consumer may be uncomfortable sharing personal information, so making the pharmacy staff accessible to answer questions is important. Caregivers, on the other-hand, need to be assured they are making the correct decision during the time of purchase. Shelf education or an informed staff will help complete the transaction.”

According to experts, pharmacies should follow in DME retail footsteps and make sure to carry liners, diapers, wipes and pull-ups. Different brands and sizes are critical to meeting customer needs and comfort. For cross-selling, keep a selection of skin care products in the incontinence shelving area.

DME’s have a key advantage as trusted, health product advisers who are knowledgeable and sensitive to the needs of their clients, said McEvoy.

Education is Essential

“Many older consumers don’t feel comfortable in a retail setting asking a young, inexperienced clerk which incontinence product is right for them,” he said. “So it’s important to educate the pharmacy staff on the proper selections and usage for all products so they can guide the customer through the purchasing process. For example, there can be issues involving size, length of use and comfort. Selling incontinence requires some specialized knowledge and thoughtful advice when assisting the consumer.”

Education at the shelf is a great way to engage your consumers to ensure they are getting the answers they need when interacting with staff is not an option, said McEvoy. In addition to protection products (protective underwear, bed liners, etc.) and at-shelf education, there is a number of other aftercare products for use following an accident.

“For example, Carex makes a cleansing spray that can be used to freshen the private area, so the consumer can feel clean until it is time to bathe,” he said. “With chronic incontinence problems, the skin may become irritated due to exposure to bacteria and moisture. The Carex cleansing spray is an alcohol free, pH balanced formula designed to dissolve urine and fecal soils resulting from incontinence. It does not require water to rinse, so it delivers cleanliness even without facilities or when there are physical limitations to hinder bathing. Having these additional items on the shelf will round out the product offering.”

Identifying the space is extremely important as well, as proper labeling is important so a customer can locate the correct product. The latest trends in merchandising incontinence suggest placement near the feminine hygiene category, since the vast majority of consumers are female. Some pharmacies, depending on the foot traffic, will merchandise the category closer to DME.

Finally, McEvoy offered these tips for helping a pharmacy looking to increase incontinent product sales and patient care:

  • Educate your staff on the sensitive nature of incontinence and be sure everyone is knowledgeable of the products you carry.
  • Having a broad selection of products available to the consumer is important as this is a diverse group with a wide range of needs.
  • Have an outreach program in your community to generate awareness of the product you carry.
  • Offer to deliver incontinence products with Rx deliveries as an added convenience.

This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy June 2016 issue of HME Business.