Business Solutions

The Art of Marketing Orthopedics

The number of ailments and susceptible population segments aided by orthopedic soft goods has created ample marketing opportunities for HME providers.

Marketing OrthopedicsOrthopedic soft goods continue to be popular revenue generators for HME providers. One reason is a thriving customer base. Seniors are living longer; young adults and baby boomers aren’t slowing down, continuing to engage in sports and other challenging physical activity; and children and teenagers are participating in club and high school sports, as well as so-called action sports, which include skateboarding and snowboarding.

Here are some statistics supporting the growing orthopedic soft goods market:

  • According to American Academy of Family Physicians, acute ankle injuries are one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in athletes and sedentary people, accounting for 2 million injuries per year. Nearly half of all ankle sprains occur during athletic activity. And once you sprain an ankle, you are more susceptible for repeat injuries.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2015 that sprains and strains from overextension in lifting accounted for 31 percent of worker injury claims.
  • U.S. construction workers are at high risk for on-the-job injuries to muscles, tendons, joints and nerves, according to a report in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
  • The New York Times reported that Baby boomers are staying active and getting the sprains and strains to prove it. Sports-related injuries in this age group went up 33 percent over a seven-year period while boomers come to the realization that the older they get, the longer it takes to heal.
  • The CDC says that an estimated 54.4 million U.S. adults (22.7 percent) had been told they have some sort of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus or fibromyalgia. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome affects 2.7 percent
    to 5.8 percent of the adult population, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians
  • Skateboarding injuries in 2011 accounted for 78,000 emergency room visits, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

The common denominator for this growing population of people susceptible to strains and sprains is that products like wraps, bracing and compression are effective for recovery and prevention. The opportunity to jump into or grow your share of this massive space is there — but to be successful in gaining market share, HME providers need to find a way to maximize their marketing.

Expert Marketing Advice

Matt GarverMatt Garver, vice president of marketing, for orthopedic product maker Brown Medical (Brownmed) says that arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability, affecting approximately 54.4 million adult Americans, which represents approximately one in five people in your community.

“What’s more, two-thirds of arthritis suffers are younger than 65, so contrary to popular opinion, it’s not simply a disease for senior citizens,” he says. “Compression wraps, like those found in Brownmed’s IMAK Compression line, may offer relief for many dealing with this type of chronic pain.”

Garver says that in the summer months, prevalence of acute injuries requiring splints or casting and overuse injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, become much more commonplace. He says that to reach these patients, target the trainers.

“They’re in contact with athletes every day and can refer them to your store,” he says. “There are tons of trade shows, like the upcoming NATA (National Athletic Trainer Association) Convention, which offer the opportunity to network with individuals in this field. If trade shows aren’t possible, local high schools and youth sports teams are always looking for sponsors. The key is to simply be visible in the community.”

Garver says that once customers are in your store, having the right products makes a world of difference. Stocking your shelves with quality products that generate high levels of customer satisfaction has long-term benefits for your success, he says.

“Products designed specifically with patient comfort in mind, like the Sharper Image Plantar Fasciitis Day and Night Relief Kit, increase patient compliance,” he says. “Increased compliance leads to improved product efficacy. Improved product efficacy leads to increased patient satisfaction. Increased patient satisfaction means you’ve got a loyal customer who will come back for additional products and become a referral source for you in the future.”

Lastly, Garver says, the ubiquity of smartphones means consumers and patients are armed with more information than ever before. Customers are no longer relying solely on a doctor’s recommendation and may not consult a physician at all for certain orthopedic braces or wraps, and this can lead to overconfidence and confusion once they walk through the front door.

Also, expect customers to do a search of your on-the-shelf product on their smartphones while walking the aisles of your store. Make sure your website has an excellent FAQ that answers all of your customer’s questions about the particular product.

“What should I get? Is this really the right product? Why is one brand better than the other?” Garver says. “Merchandising products with a focus on patient education, specifically focused on how, when and why to use, can have a significant impact on converting additional sales.”

For example, Brownmed offers marketing literature that helps HME providers market and move their products. These materials have photos of the product in action, with clear benefit statements that help both the provider and customer to make a good purchase decisions.

Heath CravenHeath Craven, director of marketing for CURAD, says that key users of orthopedic soft goods can vary across the demographic spectrum, from children to college athletes and older adults. Here’s a look at the core products CURAD is focusing on marketing this year and its key demographics:

  • Knee brace — Knee braces support mild sprains, strains and swelling and fluid retention. The product can be marketed to both children and adults.
  • Back brace — The back brace provides support and compression for lower back and abdominal region. It’s ideal for pulled muscles, sprains or strains. It’s often marketed to older adults.
  • Tennis elbow — This is meant to provide support for symptoms of tennis elbow, inflammation, irritation or slight tearing of the muscles and tendons just below the elbow. It is commonly marketed to athletes and consumers careers such as painting, plumbing, construction and culinary.
  • Ankle brace — This can be used as support to an injury or as a preventative measure. While the product can be marketed to multiple demographics, they’re commonly worn by athletes when there’s fast-paced weight changes.

“Packaging is an important marketing aspect to think about,” he says. “Consumers are inundated with product options in retail stores, so education on what the product is and symptoms it addresses is key. Our parent company, Medline, a global medical supplies company that serves the entire continuum of care, has an innovative packaging design to provide healthcare professionals with clear, step-by-step instructions for applying the product on the patient. This improved delivery and communication system eliminates confusion and enhances patient care. The company decided to bring that level of simplicity and awareness to retain consumers. CURAD recently redesigned its packaging to provide consumers with education so they can confidently pick out the product that best suits their needs. Each product box includes instructions for preparing the product and applying it, features visuals of how it supports the troubled area and highlights instructions for adjusting the product.”

Scott FriedDr. Scott Fried is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and president of Doctor in the House (DITH), which develops home health treatment methods, including orthopedic soft goods. His products include the Miracle Splint, developed for sufferers of carpal tunnel syndrome, and the Neck Free Shoulder System, used by people who might have strained or sprained their shoulder or have the need to immobilize their arm after surgery or injury.

Like Garver, Scott agreed that important to marketing is offering products that work, which in turn creates satisfied, trusting patient relationships, minimal returns and consistent reimbursement expectations.

“Our Doctor in the House products utilize state-of-the-art and new materials to allow better devices that work more physiologically to heal the patient and make them comfortable,” he says. “Allowing motion that is protected, such as with semi-flexible splints and devices that preserve motion, or prevent loss of motion, such as frozen shoulder, will become a critical trend in orthopedics. These new materials are creating fast, efficient and stronger devices that deliver real healing. This is what DITH and our products are all about. Since the company is headed by an orthopedic surgeon, he can know the needs of the surgeon and the doctors as well as therapists who treat these patients, understand the limits and needs of the specific injury treatments, and then design devices to fit the need.”

When it comes to orthopedic soft goods, the key, Scott says, is having medically indicated products that have been clinically tested and proven to create and promote healing.

“There are many devices out there that simply are not indicated for the diagnoses they are being scripted for,” he says. “Further they either fit poorly or have limited access to support from clinical staff such as therapists and docs who can help patients use them to attain healing.”

Scott says that one of the missions of his products is to help heal the patient before surgery is necessary. His philosophy: Given the proper environment, protection and rest, the body heals itself.

“That is the heart and basis of physiologic DME,” he says. “Teach patients to heal, provide them with products and optimal education, and support as needed and they heal. This saves everyone — the patient, insurer and the country — money.”

Regarding the future of orthopedic soft goods, Scott sees a trend toward a tougher market that demands that a product does what it is advertised to do or receives severe penalties for trying to get around the system.

“More strict enforcement of the real PDAC terminology and matching actual clinical indications with the code is going to be essential in attaining reimbursement but also weeding out those companies and sales forces that do not do so,” he says. “A glaring example is the L3807 Splint Code. This is for a customizable splint that treats wrist and hand injuries, not a thumb Spica splint that is indicated only for thumb problems. Our L3916 Miracle Splints treat exactly what is on the authorization scripts and allow protected motion and healing. That is the type of appropriateness that is essential today. Enforcement and accountability on the part of expert sales teams is the biggest challenge I see in the future.”

Brad WimsattBrad Wimsatt is the director of Business Development for SAI Therapeutic Brands. One of SAI’s brands is the OTC Professional Orthopaedic program, which offers a mix of products that are engineered for therapeutic performance and comfort. “Any person with strains, aches, or pains would require support on the given area,” Wimsatt says. “This section should be broken into three categories: minimum, medium and maximum support. They are necessarily marketed toward a specific group or gender. Knee, wrist, ankle, elbow and back are the most common injury prone areas needing support. Many professions or sports players could use these items as support to prevent injury. For example, a construction worker may use a back support to prevent strain to the back, while a high school football player may wear a knee brace to prevent knee injury during play.”

Wimsatt says that having a nice selection of product that captures the minimum, medium and maximum support would let you address the injury at all levels. Community awareness and outreach, as well as connecting with the local athletic directors, would be a plus. Other tips he suggested include:

  • Weekly and monthly specials
  • Product awareness
  • Staff education
  • Signage and a sales expert who can direct the patient to the correct product
  • Seasonal displays in high-traffic areas

“SAI provides a great deal of product training to staff members along with videos about proper fitting and care instructions,” he says. “Staff education is vital to eliminate further injury or return of products. You also want to make sure the section is organized in a way that your customer doesn’t get lost looking for product. All too often these showroom sections can become a mish-mash of product, which causes confusion during the shopping process. Brands with packaging that educates and sells itself is a definite plus.”

Key Markets & Products

First, let’s understand the product appeals. There are a number of orthopedic soft goods categories that can be tied directly to various cash sales customer categories. Let’s take a look:

Top patient categories Orthopedic cash sales products Comments
Rehab Wrist, ankle, knee, back, neck, ice packs Rehab and sports categories are very close in sales.
Sports Wrist, ankle, knee, ice packs, back supports, arm slings The orthopedic market has shifted to serve more sports-related injuries.
Geriatric Ankle, wrist, immobilizer, elbow, shoulder Geriatrics is a very popular product category when a caretaker is involved in the purchase.
Post-surgery Abdominal support, arm slings, knee, ankle Post-surgery probably relies more on insurance, since they are dealing with insurance already.
Maternity Back support  
Weekend warrior Ice packs, wrist, ankle, knee, elbow, arm sling Weekend warriors and accidents are due to the nature of the injury and patients may self-treat and go straight to buy a support, probably at a drug store or pharmacy.
Accidents Ice packs, wrist, back support, ankle, knee, elbows arm slings, cervical collars

When planning your marketing dollars, some HME experts say that when considering which body parts provide the best marketing opportunities, the back and knee are the bigger markets for HME providers in both volume and revenue. Then come wrist, ankle and neck. For chain drug stores, the top-selling products are for knee, ankle and wrist. Let’s hear more of what the experts have to say on marketing orthopedic soft goods.

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

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