Products & Technology

Exploring Orthopedic Opportunities

Orthopedics offer providers a great way to generate increased retail income, as well as funded revenue. What are the key considerations?

Orthopedic Retail OpportunitiesRetail revenue: it’s something just about every provider seeks in today’s funding market. In fact, there are some providers that have even shifted their priority from the funded side of their businesses to the retail side. The question is, where can providers find revenue and how can they effectively pursue it?

The answer often lies in specialization. Providers that can concentrate on a retail niche that pairs well with the patient groups that they serve can leverage their relationships with those patients and the reputations they have developed as product experts to encourage those patients to consider non-funded solutions. For example, a provider that serves a large number of seniors, as well as patients with mobility impairments might enjoy considerable success in offering bathe safety items, home access products, and aids to daily living.

One very key product category that has been part of the homecare landscape for a considerable amount of time is orthopedics. Orthopedics appeal to a wide range of patient groups while also providing a solid blend of both retail and funded revenue.

When selling orthopedic goods on a retail basis, it’s important to keep in mind that the demographics of people that need these offerings are considerable. Thus, the argument to offer orthopedic products becomes even stronger. And, as that population ages and people that are older remain active longer, an increasing number of those people require some type of supports and braces to help maintain those active lifestyles, as well as to prevent and treat minor injuries.

And, when it comes to funded items, orthopedic goods often meet the criteria for reimbursement, and are more often covered than not when prescribed as medically necessary. There are number of referral sources that providers can tap into in this regard, including surgeon practices, orthopedic physicians, general practitioners, and podiatrists to name a few.

Also, providers want to focus on a blended approach for funded patients. When orthopedics are prescribed, there are many complementary items providers can sell on a retail basis along with the funded products to increase their profits. For instance, when a patient is prescribed a knee brace, the provider can suggest custom orthotic shoe inserts, heating pads, analgesics and knee wedges, and then sell those items on a cash basis.

As we can see, orthopedic products represent a revenue opportunity that providers can’t ignore, because, in addition to its revenue potential, offering orthopedic goods lets them leverage existing patient relationships and their ability to develop their teams’ in-depth product knowledge. How do they get started?

The Orthopedic Marketplace

Perhaps the best place to begin is to understand the size of the orthopedic marketplace. On a purely anecdotal basis, there’s a good chance that a quarter of a typical provider’s existing clientele could benefit from some kind of orthopedic product. There are simply too many conditions and too many orthopedic solutions for orthopedics not to be a part of everyday life.

Looking at patient segments, there are many groups that benefit from orthopedic goods: rehab patients, customers who are recovering from injuries, people suffering from sports injuries, athletic clients that need special support, post-surgery patients, maternity patients, and geriatric patients. Moreover, each of those patient groups need specific items. For instance athletic patients could need wrist, ankle, and knee braces, back supports, or, if they’ve suffered an injury, they could need ice packs, or slings.

And in addition to the types of patient groups, it’s important to understand how some of those patient groups are changing. This is especially true when it comes to senior clients. They are a key patient segment that will need orthopedic products, but perhaps not in the ways provider might initially predict. Where the Baby Boom generation is concerned, there are 10,000 people turning 65 every day, and those Boomers are not like the retirement age population that came before them.

Where previous generations of Americans in their mid to late 60s might have limited their athletic activity to a nice walk or good game of golf, the Baby Boom generation is changing all that. They are pushing the envelope of retirement activities by regularly participating in challenging athletic endeavors such as triathlons. As an age cohort, Baby Boomers are more active and are engaged in a number athletic pursuits and recreational sports. Sports therapy and athletic orthopedics represent a key category for this patient segment.

And they aren’t necessarily going to settle for funded orthopedic offerings, either. This is a patient group that is willing to be self-funded when it comes to getting what they want or need. The Baby Boom is an age group willing to pay for items if they can’t get them funded. If a retail product, such as night splints, wrist splints or patellofemoral bands, can help a patient contend with nagging pain that diminishes their quality of life, Boomers will be willing to pay for it when Medicare won’t. This is especially becoming the case for sports-related orthopedic products. Baby Boomers are willing to buy them on a cash basis, as well, especially if that item can help them enjoying an active lifestyle.

The Right Product Range

This means the onus is on providers to stock a wide range of offerings that will appeal to the varied needs of changing patient groups and funding circumstances. And again, because there is such a wide array of orthopedic solutions to suit various patients and conditions. The provider business must ensure that it provides adequate inventory of key solutions for patients, and it must also ensure that its staff is well versed on those products in terms of features and benefits. If your vendors offer any kind of product education, take advantage of it.

So which products are ideal for the different patient groups? Well let’s break each segment down and review the products that are right for them:

Rehab patients — These patients will need orthopedic offerings that focus on the Wrist, ankle, knee, back and neck. Ice packs, heat pads and other pain relief products, possibly including TENS units, are good pairings, as well.

Athletic patients — These are patients that regularly engage in athletic activity, as well as those who might be weekend warriors. In fact, America has become so fitness-focused that a large segment of the orthopedic market really caters to just these users. Like rehab patients, good products for this niche are wrist, ankle, knee, back supports, and arm slings. Ice packs. And again, pain relief products are ideal for this group.

Seniors — Many of the orthopedic offerings provided to this group will address both new and chronic conditions. Moreover, there’s a good chance that there will be multiple “clients” involved in the sale, such as family and caregivers. Common orthopedic offerings used by seniors address the ankle, wrist, elbow and shoulder, as well as immobilizers.

Post-surgery patients — This is a key funded group of patients, who need orthopedic offerings to assist in their post-surgical recuperation. Referral partner marketing will be key in this scenario. These patients will need items for abdominal support, knees, ankles and arm slings.

Maternity patients — This will be a particularly important category for providers striving to specialize in women’s health, but shouldn’t be ignored by orthopedic providers at all. These patients benefit from items such as back supports and prenatal cradles.

General injuries — There are a lot of weekend warriors, do it yourselfers, and everyday people who wind up injuring themselves either in the pursuit of fun, or simply by accident. Many of these patients are self-treating and looking for an expert who can provide some solid advice. To help these patients, providers should stock a wide range of items, such as wrist, back support, ankle, knee, elbows, arm slings, and cervical collars, as well as the aforementioned pain relief products.

It’s also important to consider looks when it comes to orthopedic products. Today’s orthopedic offerings clearly are the result of not just solid medical research, but product design, as well. They deliver a therapeutic benefit while looking good. It is key for providers to consider their customers and then think about how they will respond to not just the features and benefits of any given orthopedic product, but how they will feel about wearing it. Will it match their lifestyle, their aesthetic sensibilities, or their fashion tastes? These are actually considerations that truly matter, and a provider should take them seriously when stocking their orthopedic offerings.

Adding Compression to the Mix

In addition to classic orthopedic products, providers should consider adding compression to their lineup as a complimentary product line. While compression is often associated with wound care, many conditions treated by orthopedic products can also involve compression garments and wraps, because compression not only increases blood flow, but also provides support.

Furthermore, the demographics of compression are similar. There are a large number of diabetic patients, seniors and other major patient populations that need compression, and the number of transactions can get very large. In fact, one market study reported that the worldwide compression market will swell from $2.4 billion in 2012 to $3.4 billion in 2019, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1 percent.

Like orthopedic products, providers should stock a wide range of product types, sizes, colors and styles of compression garments. As mentioned, color and style are more important than providers might initially realize. While compression garments serve a purpose, at the end of the day they are clothing, and that means that fashion does play a role. Compression therapy or not, people want to feel what they’re wearing makes them look good.

Also, education is key in offering compression. Because compression garments are hard to put on and the compression ratings are applied to different conditions, it is a good idea to have a certified compression fitter on the team. This person will not only help ensure that patients are getting the right grade of compression and the correct format of garment (such as closed, or open toe) for the patient, but show the patients how to put on and take off those items. (And donning and doffing compression items can be hard for some patient groups, such as seniors.) Many compression manufacturers offer webinars, in-store training and knowledgeable customer service reps that will help providers learn more about their products, compression technology and matching patients with product.

Merchandising & Showroom

In terms of how providers should sock their shelves, in basic terms, they should have the products arranged by patient need and to ensure that everything is adequately stocked, not just in terms of type, but also size, color and style where applicable. But since many of these customers are going to be retail, providers must take their merchandising far beyond simple organization.

The provider must create a “retail experience” that will drive increased sales. When orthopedic customers come to the providers’ retail location with cash sales in mind, they will expect the same kind of experience they get from a store in the local mall. A funded patient comes to the provider with a prescription and set expectations. A cash sales customer is looking for options, information and a range of solutions that can help make an informed purchase.

Bearing that in mind, the showroom must also feel inviting, comfortable, and in a way, empowering. The retail orthopedic customer wants to be able to know that she can get help, but at the same time feel like he is in charge. A smart showroom can help instill all these components of the retail experience.

You want to put clients in the driver’s seat. Make sure to provide helpful signage that can help patients find what they need, and offer as much in-store product education through displays, posters, brochures and similar offerings. The more education you can provide, the better. The showroom should educate patients on the benefits of your inventory to ensure they get the right product to support their needs. Done right, those kinds of educational displays can support the staff’s sales and service process, as well.

Sales and Service

And that’s important, because at the end of the day, the true “make or break” in whether or not your business succeeds in truly helping orthopedic clients is your team.

Product expertise is the cornerstone of a providers value, so provider staff should have a solid understanding of disease states that are involved and the products that service them. Staff should know the features and benefits of key category products and to be able to effectively communicate that with customers.

So, providers must strive to ensure their customer service representatives are thoroughly trained by manufactures on your
product lines, and hopefully via other third party sources, as well. The goal is to make our team members product gurus who can make the right recommendations to customers so that they have confidence those customers will walk out of the store with an orthopedic offering that will provide the right therapeutic benefit and that the customer will truly like and value.

In terms of the actual sales and service process, providers serving orthopedic customers should strive for their teams to use a consultative sales and service approach.

The range of orthopedic options can be staggering, and understanding their applicability to various conditions is critical, because it is very likely that customers will be confused by the wide spectrum of product choices. This puts providers in an excellent position to leverage their expertise to truly help a patient and establish a solid and lasting relationship. One of the key ways a provider can start that process is to simply listen and ask open-ended questions that can get the patient to open up about his or her condition and describe his or her problems in detail. Once you have a solid sense of the situation, you can start to make recommendations.

When it comes to helping orthopedic patients with funding, providers must have a solid referral marketing and education program in place. Implement a dedicated program to educate referrals as often as possible. Your referring physicians and other referral partners aren’t going to be able to come to your store to check out your offerings, so make sure to take your product knowledge to them.

In-services are key in keeping your partners up to date on your latest offerings. Work to meet with and educate orthopedic doctors and surgeons and general practice and rehab facilities so that you can share your expertise and the services and products you provide and the sorts of patients and conditions you can help. Also, make sure to not only talk up your products, but your team, as well. Describe your on-staff expertise to your referrals so that you drive home the point that you are a knowledgeable, dedicated and reliable resource for their patients.

Ultimately, orthopedics represents a key product category for providers, both in terms expanding retail and funded revenue. The key is to approach it in the same way a provider would explore any new territory: get a solid sense of the landscape and then take cautious, well considered steps into a new opportunity.

Tapping Into Orthopedic Expertise

Besides the manufacturers of orthopedic products, there are solid educational resources in the industry. For starters, Medtrade Spring and Medtrade Fall both offer expos with loads of orthopedic products, as well as conference tracks that provide useful education. Additionally, both the major member service organizations in the industry, VGM Group (vgm.com) and The MED Group (medgroup.com), have resources for providers interested in orthopedics and orthotics. The VGM Group’s Retail Services offers expertise in the category, and the MED Group offers a Rehab & Orthotics Network. And of course both groups offer products to members via their buying groups.

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

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