Business Solutions

Opening Orthopedic Opportunities

There's a solid case for HME providers to double-down on orthopedic products as part of their revenue expansion strategies. How can they get started?

man opening door with keyThe name of today’s modern HME provider game is revenue diversification, and particularly through items that let them reach new and existing patients with a mix of funded and retail revenue. Providers must strive to find new business opportunities and markets in which they can leverage their product and patient care expertise in order to reach new patient segments, as well as expand their relationships with existing patients.

As a service, orthopedics offers serious potential because of its diverse customer base and because most orthopedic patients need more than one item. There are a wide variety of patient groups that are served by 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 the senior population. Each of these clients needs 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.

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. Also, 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.

Understanding the Market

But if anything, it’s the numbers that really sell orthopedic as a revenue generator for HME providers. There 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, such as skateboarding and snowboarding.

Those groups have fostered a growing orthopedic soft goods market. Look at these statistics:

  • 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 Orthopedic 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.

The numbers don’t lie—there’s a healthy market and providers are in an excellent position to tap into it.

Knowing the Products

Orthopedic providers must 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 activities, 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.

Emphasizing Service

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. Staff should know the features and benefits of key products and be able to effectively communicate that with customers.

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.

This means providers must train their customer service representatives are thoroughly trained. In addition to in-house training, providers should work with manufacturers and other third-party educators, as well. The goal is to make your 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.

Sharpening Your 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.

Ultimately, orthopedics represents a key product category for providers, both in terms expanding retail and funded revenue. The key is to avoid swinging the door open and rushing in. Instead, get a solid sense of the landscape and then take a cautious, well-researched step across the threshold.

This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of HME Business.

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