Business Solutions

Ideas for Growth

Today's oxygen game is about squeezing more profit out of existing revenues — which is no easy feat. However, industry experts have assembled more than 30 tips that will hopefully help you widen your margins and bring in a win.

man watering plantBy now you’re thinking you’ve heard every possible piece of advice for making the most of your oxygen business. You can’t grow a prescription-based market, you’ve shifted every appropriate patient from tanks to a POC and you just feel like you’ve done all you can.

Maybe you have. But just in case you’ve missed a suggestion, HMEB consulted some industry experts for their advice on how to squeeze profits out of thin air. We’ve broken those suggestions down to bite-sized pieces so you can catch up on anything you’ve missed, or get started without getting overwhelmed.

Credit where credit is due: Experts who helped in this checklist, noted with initials at each item, are:

  • Victoria Marquardt, CEO of OxyGo
  • Heather Osborne, senior field marketing manager – internet channel for Philips
  • Frank Lazzaro, director of global product management for respiratory telehealth and oxygen therapy at Philips
  • Colton Mason, senior vice president of Supreme Medical
  • Dave Pugh, regional vice president of respiratory at Drive Medical
  • Aaron Sivley, territory manager for Alabama at Drive Medical

START HERE

Know your suppliers: Close relationships with suppliers can lead to better business results. Philips Respironics has many marketing and operational programs that are specifically designed for DMEs to optimize their businesses. Working closely with a supplier can help significantly. – HO

Offer financing options: We offer financing for pretty much anything. We work with Care Credit, and we also have OxyCare Total Advantage, a fixed short-term loan that can be used on anything in the retail space. So they could use it to buy a lift chair or a scooter and they pay for it on fixed payments each month. The DME gets paid in full within about 24 hours. That goes down to a much lower FICO score than Care Credit. That’s really helpful for people who are on a fixed income. – VM

MIND THE STORE

Tidy up: Another avenue that we’re constantly exploring here at Philips is asking our DME customers about the in-store experience. Can patients find what they need, or are they overwhelmed at the number of options and the manufacturers’ benefits? If the patient is just window-shopping, how are you engaging with them after they leave? – HO

Manage selection: Referral partners will want to know that when they send a patient to a DME, the patient will receive excellent care and the best equipment available. If patients are demanding POCs from a provider, they are more likely to be compliant with the therapy. Therefore when a DME is marketing itself to a referral base, they should make sure the referrer knows that they will provide POCs and other top oxygen equipment as this will lead to happier patients and compliance with their therapy. And compliance with therapy usually means lower readmissions, which is typically the goal of the referral base. – FL

Portable modality selection: Drive works to use the existing inventory and make better up-front decisions on new modalities to better serve the patient and their business. – DP & AS

MAP IT OUT

Transition tank patients to POCs: The most impactful change that any oxygen provider can make to increase their profitability would be to consider replacing costly deliveries of portable tanks by embracing distribution of portable oxygen concentrators. After providing a POC to a patient, there will be no further portable oxygen deliveries required by a homecare provider and the upfront acquisition cost will quickly pay for itself. Reliability for POCs has never been better, so this is a surefire business practice to increase profitability. – FL

Cluster your deliveries: A lot of people will say, “I moved to POCs but I’m not seeing any savings on deliveries.” What they are doing is putting POCS on their tank routes. You are not seeing any savings from not delivering or from POCs if you don’t optimize your routes. Look at clusters or people. Most people can’t get completely out of tanks, but that’s OK as long as you are optimizing where you are delivering. Cluster your deliveries. Cluster people who bought POCs and cluster people with tanks. – VM

CUSTOMIZE

Use distributors to customize orders: Larger distributors offer private labeling, so any drop shipments can have your invoice, logo and contact information (as well as discreet packaging, when needed). The patient will only see your name when supplies arrive.

Use distributors to tailor orders: Since Supreme breaks cases and boxes on all disposable medical supplies, you can ship in exact Medicare/Medicaid allowables and eliminate the cost of carrying that inventory from your books. One huge advantage to using Supreme’s PHD program is unlike most wholesale distributors, they do not own a DME provider. This allows you to buy from a partner, not a competitor. – CM

Don’t sweat the small stuff: Every trip out costs money. For disposable supplies, Supreme Medical encourages providers to use their PHD (patient home delivery) program. This allows you to ship supplies directly to your patient’s front porch from the Supreme Medical warehouse. – CM

ACCESSORIZE

Think mobility: SoClean is a great add-on product for a CPAP user. It’s necessary and convenient. When it comes to the COPD patient, mobility is a key factor. Offering the retail accessories that often go unnoticed is a great way to open up more opportunity with the patient. For example, our SimplyGo Mini has an optional extended battery that allows the wearer to be even more mobile – a great add-on accessory. Another angle would be the SimplyGo Mini backpack – one of the most common challenges with POCs is having a free hand or two while tackling everyday tasks. A backpack frees up both hands so the patient is free to move around while receiving their oxygen therapy. – HO

Retail all the accessories: There are many opportunities for cash sales to patients that DMEs can pursue. Items such as POC batteries and accessories are typically high-margin products that have strong demand from patients and can be sold for cash. Accessories may seem minor in nature, however these high-margin generators can really add up to a solid, profitable business line for DMEs. – FL

Get patients charged up. Our unit has extra batteries, a backpack, a desktop charger for the extra battery, carry bags and an accessory bag to hold all the accessories, and patients want that. Even if you are renting the POC, they will buy all those accessories. You can also retail the machine itself. – VM

Accessories as gifts: Knowing caregivers as well as patients opens up more marketing opportunities to advertise accessories around holidays or special occasions (Black Friday, Mother’s/Father’s Day). – HO

Know your patients: HME/DME providers have the unique opportunity to move along the continuum of care. They can, in fact, be both a post-acute and a pre-acute company by not only helping to reduce readmissions to the hospital, but also prevent an admission from occurring in the first place. – CM

Know the choices: Operational efficiency for a DME that provides oxygen has never been more important. The DME must consider all aspects of providing therapy to their patient set and choose what is most appropriate. First, they must determine the specific portable needs of the patient and determine which mode will be best to serve them both clinically and economically. POCs should be strongly considered for most patients that require ambulatory oxygen as merely one or two deliveries per month may cause a DME to be unprofitable with that patient. – HO

Sometimes, time is on your side: Do not consider a “one size fits all” method when putting together a process for oxygen patients, or assume it will be the only system patients will ever need. The disease states advance and will require adjustments to keep costs in line. As patients get worse, less expensive modalities could satisfy their needs as they become less ambulatory. – DP & AS

Help patients stay home: We all recognize that the Home is the care setting of the future. By working together — the manufacturer, distributor, and provider — we can help patients age in place and manage their chronic disease states from the comfort of their homes. – CM

EDUCATE YOUR PATIENTS

Build trust: DMEs have the trust of their patients. Building that trust is by far the most important piece to setting yourself apart from the others. With our remote monitoring capabilities, patients and DMEs alike can feel the safety of being able to identify at-risk situations with their therapy. – HO

Anticipate questions: If there’s one component I would reiterate over and over would be understanding that patients are much more involved in their health care than in years past. Educate patients on their oxygen therapy. – HO

Know the pros and cons: Ensuring that patients have access to the newest care options, as well as making sure the DME is educating them on those options. It is just as important to be top-of-mind for the patient, which is why having more than one touchpoint is crucial. Send them emails, include leaflets in their resupply orders – always be the source they come to for their DME needs. – HO

Get to know the family: One thing that always surprises me about the DME space is the “afterthought” of marketing efforts. When you think about how much control and resources patients have when it comes to their therapy and overall health care, it’s more important than ever to build and maintain a relationship with that individual, or even their caregiver. Caregivers are the sweet spot for the Oxygen business. In most cases, caregivers are the adult children of parents with COPD and rely heavily on the Internet to educate themselves on what the best treatment for their parent. Knowing that the patient is the final decision maker, caregivers have a lot of weight in the decision journey. – HO

Save patients money: Drive recommends evaluating the continuous flow patients for conservers. Continuous flow modalities drive up trips and have the potential to reduce patient ambulation times. – DP & AS

Stay on top of resupplies: DMEs have such an advantage of knowing when a patient is ready for re-supply or to upgrade their current device. – HO

REACH OUT TO REFERRERS

Know your patients: Marketing to existing patients is undeniably the most important thing a DME can do. Without proper activation, it is guaranteed they will find another source to purchase their oxygen, asthma or sleep therapy devices. If you consider all of the information a DME already has on the patient, the cost of acquisition is very low and is an easy way to show ROI-positive results. – HO

Show your stuff: Delivering value-based outcomes are what referral sources and payers care about. Providers should engage their referral partners with cutting-edge products designed to deliver the highest quality of life for the home care patient and position themselves as the authority for respiratory supplies and equipment in their local community. – CM

Get social: For small businesses in the health space, word-of-mouth referrals are more important than ever. Do you have a website? Facebook? Does your website (or social presence) have reviews of your exceptional customer service? Most consumers will look for not only product reviews, but reviews on that business. – HO

Paper your patients: Get in front of your patients or caregivers before they go online. If you are filling an order, include a brochure or postcard into the package. Make it a point to bring up in any conversation you have with the patient or caregiver about the latest and greatest technology and why it is a benefit to them. – HO

Email blasts: I work with our DMEs to think outside their comfort zone – are you capturing an email address? If yes, how often are you getting in to their inbox? What are you doing to keep your loyal customers from going to a competitor or buying online? While there is an investment to implement a more robust marketing campaign, the return is invaluable and keeps you ahead of your competitors. – HO

TANKS A LOT

Fill your own tanks: If you are doing tanks. I would seriously look into filling your own. When you are buying tanks from an oxygen supplier, it’s like eating out every night. When you fill your own it’s like cooking in, so you get better food and it’s cheaper. Just like setting up a kitchen, if you’re setting up filling tanks there are a couple of things you will have to buy up front, but the kitchen overall, but the tank-filling costs will go way down. – VM

Fill other providers’ tanks: We have a lot of clients that are filling. You can expand your business a little bit, depending on the makeup of your city and who’s around you. There’s some people who buy the tank filling system for themselves and then they fill for their ‘competition’ down the street. It’s another way for them to make some money. – VM

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of HME Business.

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