Sustained Support Surface Success
Support surface providers without Medicare contracts can build a sustainable business by developing strong relationships with vendors and customers.
- By Leila Meyer
- Mar 01, 2017
The extension of Medicare’s competitive bidding program
to group 2 support surfaces has created market challenges for HME providers,
particularly those without bidding contracts. However, long term success in
the support surface business is possible when providers commit to purchasing
quality products, educating themselves and their staff, and developing strong
relationships with customers.
A good starting point is to partner with a high quality manufacturer or
vendor rather than simply picking the one with the cheapest products,
according to Heather Trumm, director of Wound Care and Bariatrics for
The VGM Group, a member service organization.
In today’s challenging market, some providers are tempted to turn to the
low-cost manufacturers and distributors available online. Unfortunately, this
is one of those situations where that old maxim “you get what you pay for”
rings true, and most of the Internet resellers “don’t really sell a product that
meets the needs of the [patient],” warns Ron Resnick, president and owner
of Blue Chip Medical Products, a manufacturer of therapeutic mattresses and
If the support surface doesn’t meet the patient’s needs, either because it’s the
wrong mattress for their condition or because it’s poor quality and breaks, the
patient’s condition may worsen, and poor patient outcomes are bad for business.
“A hospital’s not going to buy that inexpensive product,” Resnick adds.
“They need to get a [good] clinical outcome.”
When selecting a manufacturer or vendor, Trumm recommends looking for
a company that oversees the manufacturing process themselves and backs up
its providers with warranties and replacements. Resnick says good manufacturers
also offer training for providers.
Once an HME provider has committed to selling good quality products, they
need to educate themselves and their staff members about wound care and the
support surfaces required to treat and prevent them. High quality manufacturers
and vendors will offer that training because it’s good for business.
“Before a wound care person is going to do anything, the referrer is going to
want to know that they’re entrusting a provider that has the expertise, the
knowledge, and the ability to service that patient,” Resnick advises.
In addition to educating themselves, it’s a good idea for providers to have
somebody on staff who can help educate customers, too. “There’s a lot of turnover
in some of these hospitals, nursing homes and long term care facilities,”
Trumm says. “You need somebody who can go in there every two weeks to
make sure everything’s okay and do some education on the products. Keep in
front of your customers that way.”
It’s even better if that person has clinical expertise, according to Trumm.
“People don’t want to put the money up front to have a professional in wound
care that knows what they’re doing, but in my opinion, you need to if you
want to be successful,” she says.
The third ingredient in a sustainable support surfaces business is diversification
of referral sources and other customers. Even without a Medicare
contract, there are plenty of other sources of revenue, but the provider needs
to be willing to get out there, start talking to people and establish relationships
with potential customers. “There are a lot of ways to market yourself,” Resnick
notes. “But if you don’t go out there and tell the story, it will never happen.”
With the aging demographics, long term care facilities are a growing market
for selling or renting support surfaces. According to Resnick, a lot of HME
providers are hesitant to sell to long term care homes “because they don’t pay
their bills.” While that might have been the case 15 to 20 years ago, he says
there are a lot of big, corporate long term care chains, hospitals and group
purchasing organizations where providers can promote their products and
services. “It could be a single location deal or a multi-location deal,” he adds.
Local HME providers can offer another advantage to hospitals, including
veteran’s hospitals and individual departments within hospitals. If there’s a
problem with a support surface, the local provider can offer faster service, and
Trumm thinks that’s a huge selling point. “With these national companies,...if they have a problem with their support surface, they have to wait for a week
before they can get somebody in,” she says.
The local sales and service angle also appeals to private payers and private
insurance carriers, according to Resnick. They don’t want to buy on the
Internet and deal with the hassle where they don’t have a service provider
in their area.
Retail is another big source of potential revenue. “You would be so surprised
at how many people will actually pay cash to have a support surface in their
home,” Trumm notes. “It’s the baby boomers, and they want to be comfortable
in their home, lying on a comfortable support surface so they get a good night’s
rest and help with other things, that’s huge.”
Other potential sources of business referrals are hospices, rehabilitation
facilities, and even plastic surgeons. “Plastic surgeons are a really good source
of business because they are the ones who write scripts for patients who need
flap surgery, patients who are burned, patients who have pressure sores,”
As with so many other businesses, networking with people in the industry
is critical. The Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses (WOCN) Society is a
professional organization for wound care specialists. They’re the people who
the doctors call and ask for advice on wound care and can generate referrals
Finally, HME providers need to carry some basic parts for customer service
calls. “As with any mechanical device, things can eventually break, so we have
a small listing of parts that we recommend the dealer keep on hand case they
have to make minor repairs,” Resnick advises. That list includes things like an
extra mattress or two, a couple of extra covers and bladders, and in some cases
an extra compressor or pump.
Ultimately, succeeding in the group 2 support surface market without a
Medicare contract requires a commitment on the part of the HME provider.
But those who are willing to put the effort into building relationships with
suppliers and customers, and into educating themselves and their staff, can
operate successful and sustainable businesses for the long haul.
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of HME Business.
Leila Meyer is a freelance writer covering a variety of industries. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the web at leilameyer.com.