HME Handbook: Women's Health

How Women's Health HMEs Can Provide Post-mastectomy Services

What can providers do to help these patients turn the page on an extremely difficult experience?

Women’s health represents a tremendous — and under-served — opportunity for HME providers. The market for women’s health services represents a substantial amount of business for providers that want to specialize in serving women’s unique health needs. The numbers are obvious: Women represent 49.1 percent of the population by last Census Bureau count), and have health needs that require specialized services. Example categories that include products tailored to women’s particular health needs include maternity, obstructive sleep apnea, incontinence and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

But of all women’s unique health needs, one of the most important and difficult to serve is that of post-mastectomy services. A patient that has just undergone mastectomy surgery has dealt with a barrage of extremely difficult experiences from diagnosis to procedure, and now post-mastectomy, they are in need of providers that can help them turn the page on a difficult experience and start the next chapter in their life.

This represents an opportunity for providers to not just branch out into a new opportunity, but provide real, honest-to-goodness care for people who truly need a helping hand. And by serving those needs properly, a provider can establish itself as a trusted, reliable resource for its healthcare market.

Assemble an Effective Team

Clearly, your post-mastectomy patients will seek staff they can trust and relate to. Bearing that in mind, it’s advisable that a woman leads your post-mastectomy practice. Even if a male member of the provider team knows the care and service issues related to post-mastectomy patients backwards and forwards, there still might be a discomfort level for your patients simply based on the gender difference. A female on-staff expert will help build the comfort and trust levels that women’s healthcare patients will expect, and can then dive in to ensure that those clients are getting the medical products and services that they need. And again, executed with the right kind of product and care knowledge, that person will help build long-term relationships with those patients.

Get the Right Expertise

There is no universal mastectomy procedure. Women who undergo mastectomy can undergo a full mastectomy, or a partial mastectomy. Partial mastectomy procedures include lumpectomies, which remove the tumor as well as a small amount of breast tissue; a segmentectomy, which removes the tumor, as well as a larger portion of the breast tissue; or a quadrantectomy, which removes the tumor along with a full quarter of the breast.

All of these procedures obviously result in the patient’s likely need for a post-mastectomy prosthesis. Not all women desire such a prosthesis, but for those that do (the data is scant, but the figures that do exists suggest a large majority of post-mastectomy patients do want to wear a prosthesis), you will need to have the right expertise on your team. For that, you will need at least one certified mastectomy fitter on your team (see “Learn More” for resources on where to get that certification).

Also, it’s important to note that for women who undergo breast reconstruction surgery, there might be a need for a prosthetic shell or similar offering in order to ensure a symmetrical shape. Here again, having the right expertise on the team is crucial.

Provide a Complete Range

Beyond the unique elements of post-mastectomy bras and prosthetics, there are a variety of products and issues related to breast cancer patients that women’s healthcare providers should stock. Because those patients can be exposed to radiation treatment, there are various skin care product lines available to those patients. Wigs, hats, scarves and other head coverings are also important to patients undergoing chemotherapy. Also, breast cancer patients can be affected by lymphedema, which requires specific supplies, such as compression items.

Bearing that in mind, the provider must be a one-stop shop for post-mastectomy patients. Now that the patient has found a friendly, reliable, supportive resource, the last thing she wants to do is have to go somewhere else for one single item. Simply by providing the full spectrum of post-mastectomy products, you are establishing your business as a resource.

Engage in Online Outreach

Because post-mastectomy patients need answers, but are also dealing with a highly private and personal matter, they will often go online looking for information that can help them. This presents your business with a tremendous opportunity to help those patients through online outreach. Create a blog or website that addresses the common and not-so-common questions postmastectomy patients have; shares new product information; and provides inspiration for patients who are coming to terms with a difficult life transition. Make sure to regularly link to those articles on social media, as well. Patients will find those articles, they will read them, and they will associate the value they derive from those posts with your women’s health practice.

Inform Referrals

While your outreach to patients might happen online, make regular efforts to meet with your referrals in the healthcare community to let them know about your services, and the latest products that you are offering. Moreover, create printed information pieces and brochures — perhaps using the content from the online articles that you post — that they can then share with their mastectomy patients. This will not only ensure those patients get some useful information, but it will direct them back to your business.

Points to Remember:

  • Of all the women’s health services, post-mastectomy care is the most nuanced.
  • Providers need a team that emphasizes expertise, care, discretion and trust.
  • Informative online outreach is a great way to get patients in the door, as is working closely with referral sources.
  • Providers must stock a complete post-mastectomy product line, which includes far more than just breast prostheses.

Learn More:
For mastectomy fitter certification, check out the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC; abcop.org) and Board of Certification/Accreditation (BOC; bocusa.org). Also, for women’s HME information and resources in general, check out Essentially Women (essentiallywomen.com).

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of HME Business.

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