Must-Stock Retail DME Categories
What DME items should be sitting on your retail shelves? We take a look at some key product categories that any pharmacy specializing in DME products should offer.
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While funded DME and retail items might have
lived in two different worlds before, these days,
providing both DME and retail products go
hand-in-hand. While a lot of DME is reimbursable,
nearly all of it is being sold on a retail basis, as well. Moreover,
there are long lists of retail-only products that have been
developed as items that complement existing DME categories.
And most importantly, customers want these items and are
willing to pay cash for them. That means DME pharmacies must
stock product offerings that attract clients with clear and obvious
benefits. Ultimately, patients should take one look at these
sorts of products and think, “this solves my problem.”
Bearing that in mind, we’ve explored some retail-ready DME
categories that are sure to make a difference with your customers.
They include home access for seniors, bath safety offerings,
incontinence products, pain management solutions, walking
aids, compression items, orthotics and orthopedic items. Take a
look at how you might be able to fit them into your retail lineup.
More than 80 percent of home accidents occur in the bathroom,
according to the National Safety Council. Fortunately, bath
safety products don’t have to cost a lot to make big differences
for aging-in-place seniors.
For starters, grab bars are critical. They should be strategically
located in and around the bathing area, as well as around
the toilet. This has two benefits: it ensures that the patient is
supported and kept safe from a fall, but it also helps the patient gently lower and raise himself or herself
while bathing or using the toilet. In terms
of the toilet, ideally, the patient would
use a raised toilet so that he or she does
not have far to travel when rising or lowering.
Commode lifts are another option
in this case.
For the bathing area, the ideal situation
would be to have a bathing stool or
bench that the senior can use in conjunction
with a handheld shower to protect
against falls. Along with the aforementioned
grab bars, the shower floor should
be lined with non-slip material or strips.
In general, it also is a good idea to avoid
having bathmats or other items on the
floor that could cause a fall. Also, another
bathing option could be a bath lift, which
raises and lowers the client into the tub.
Also, ensure that the bathroom is
brightly lit and that there is a bright
enough night light to help the patient
negotiate the bathroom at night when
poor vision could otherwise contribute to
a fall. If possible, situate a chair or stool
in the bathroom that the senior can use
while grooming themselves or applying
makeup, and ensure there are nearby
grab bars, as well. Lights and stools are
simple, non-DME products pharmacies
can stock that pay major bath safety
SENIOR HOME ACCESS
For lots of patient groups, home access
means being able to access the home,
period. But for seniors, home access
means maintaining their independence,
as well as their safety.
As a rule of thumb, one in three U.S.
seniors falls each year, and a fall in the
home can have serious medical repercussions
for an older person. Even slight
falls can result in significant injuries, and
the likelihood of falls can increase due to
environmental factors and issues such as
physical instability, and depending on the
situation, mental impairments.
Moreover, the kinds of chronic conditions
often served by DME pharmacies
provide a contributing role in seniors’ risk
for falls. Seniors with chronic conditions
fall more frequently, including patients
with diseases unrelated to mobility, such
as COPD or diabetes, according to data
from emergency alert company Philips
For any senior that has mobility issues
that require assistance entering the home,
ramps are a key product consideration.
Simply put, ramps make safe home access
possible and are a key retail category
for pharmacies serving seniors. In many
cases, this could simply involve a basic
threshold ramp, but others cases, such as
when the door is raised off the ground,
could require a ramp installation.
Now, installing ramps can seem
like an intimidating learning curve to a
DME pharmacy, and with the codes and
contracting knowledge involved, there is
good reason for that. However, a good
solution is partnering up. If a pharmacy
doesn’t want to invest in all the tools and
equipment and construction knowledge,
it should consider partnering with a local
handyman or construction company that
is already doing accessibility work. Look
for a company with staff assets, tools
truck, license and knowledge, and then
the pharmacy can play to its strengths in
terms of understanding the senior’s access
Many pharmacies are starting to hop
on the compression train. There’s good
reason to do it: with most of its revenue
derived from retail sales, compression lets
pharmacies expand revenues while serving
both existing patients, as well as giving
them an opportunity to reach out to and
new clients and drive new business.
As compression providers know, it is a
solid cash sales category serving a number
of patient groups that are regular
HME customers. A wide range of compression
garments and wraps are used to
treat conditions including foot swelling,
mild edema, varicose veins, thrombosis,
varicosities of varying severities, and
diabetes. Moreover, there are a number
of related products, such as donning and
doffing devices to help patients, particularly
those with reaching and stretching
limitations, put on and take off their
With the right product and care
education, any pharmacy can offer compression,
but the key lies in maximizing
the opportunity. To do that, pharmacies
need to understand how large a role
factors such as merchandising and marketing
play in a successful compression
The worldwide compression market
is projected to swell from $2.4 billion in
2012 to $3.4 billion in 2019, at a compound
annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1
percent, according to “Compression
Therapy Market to 2019,” from research
and consulting firm GlobalData. Better
yet, in 2012, the United States was home
to the largest market for compression
therapy, with 49 percent of the market
revenue. GlobalData’s report forecasts
the U.S. compression market will grow
from $1 billion in 2012 to $1.6 billion in
2019, at a CAGR of 6 percent. Those market
numbers are certainly hard to ignore.
What’s driving that growth? Increasing
populations of diabetic patients and
elderly patients with venous diseases,
according to GlobalData’s report. These
are patient groups with whom most
pharmacies do a considerable amount
of business. With a clear market opportunity
and existing patient relationships
already in place, many pharmacies likely
find themselves in a prime position to tap
into compression services.
That said, also think outside the box.
There are non-healthcare markets that
are also interested in compressional garments.
The athletic market is a perfect
example: runners, triathletes, older athletes
and other sporty types can benefit
greatly from lighter compression hosiery,
sleeves and other garments. While nontraditional
for HME, they represent a
don’t-miss market opportunity.
While compression garments provide
a therapeutic benefit, compression providers must remember that at the end of the day, patients
consider these items are clothing, so fashion plays a role — and
in many cases a strong role. Bearing that in mind, who wants a
drawer full of just one color hose or stockings? Therapy or not,
people want to feel that what they’re wearing makes them look
good, not just feel good. Bearing that in mind, provide a wide
range of product types, sizes, colors and styles. In fact, color
and style are more important than pharmacies might initially
realize. Compression garment manufacturers are well aware
of your customers’ desire for a wide range of choices, and are
constantly updating their range to address seasonal changes
and fashion trends.
Display the products in an attractive and engaging fashion,
perhaps showing how your compression garments can pair up
with other articles of clothing. Also, change your displays on a
regular basis to keep things looking fresh and new. (Consider
taking a trip to the local mall or department store to get ideas on
how to display your items.) Provide signage and product information
to help the products do the selling if staff are attending
to other customers. Focus on product packaging, which can
often be as important as the “look” of the actual compression
garments. Seek out products that are packaged like other retail
Also, if you are reaching out to diverse groups of compression
users, make sure that your merchandising reflects that. For
instance, if you are serving athletic users, as well as seniors, you
might want to create separate merchandising that appeals to
both sets of customers.
There is a wide variety of pain management patients and clients
that suffer a wide variety of conditions that DME pharmacies can
help address. Also, no two clients need exactly the same paint
management solution. Referral partners and patients will have
specific desires when it comes to which solutions will be right.
So, a pharmacy must ensure it offers a decent spectrum of
pain management products to help clients discover the solution
that best fits their needs. There are some key product categories
that a pharmacy specializing in pain management products
As mentioned earlier, compression is often used
to help treat diabetic patients and elderly patients with venous
diseases, as well as wound care lymphedema patients. However,
compression, typically using wraps, can also help with pain management
by reducing swelling and promoting circulation.
DME category, orthopedic braces
provide the kind of support that many
injuries need to recover. Moreover, that
support helps diminish pain through stabilizing
a part of the body that has been
injured and limiting motion, which in turn
Standing for transcutaneous
electrical nerve stimulation, TENS
devices use electrodes attached to the
user’s skin via adhesive pads. The electrodes
send electrical impulses that flood
the user’s nerves and make it hard for the
nervous system to transmit pain signals.
Because they are so small in size,
TENS units can be worn discreetly and
used by patients throughout the day.
These units have controls that let the
user control the intensity of the stimulation,
the frequency of the stimulation
(impulses per second), and duration (in
milliseconds) of each pulse.
Standing for electrical
muscle stimulation, EMS devices might
seem similar to TENS units in terms of
their format — a small device with electrodes
connected to adhesive pads that
users attach to their skin — but that’s
where the similarity ends. EMS devices
are designed to stimulate muscles so that
they contract. The result is that blood
flow is increased to the area, which reduces
inflammation. The devices can also
be used to reduce muscle spasms.
Hot and Cold Therapy
various products that use ether heat or
cold to reduce pain. Heat tends to relax
sore muscles and joints, while cold helps
numb pain and reduce inflammation. The
available products range from simple
heat packs and cold packs, to specialized
devices that pump hot or cold water to
special wraps or sleeves that are placed
around the part of the body feeling pain.
Furthermore, there are hot and cold
therapy products that also integrate
compression so that they provide multiple
pain management benefits.
Obviously, we’re all very familiar with
over-the-counter pain killers and antiinflammatory
products. This includes
topical products, such as creams and lotions,
as well as pills ranging from aspirin
CBD is one of
the compounds called cannabinoids
produced by the cannabis plant. The
cannabinoid most everyone has heard of
is THC, the psychoactive component in
recreational marijuana. CBD, also known
as cannabidiol, is the cannabinoid often
used in managing chronic pain, insomnia
and anxiety. Using CBD to manage pain
is analogous to using an over-the-counter
pain killer; the pain is simply diminished
and there is no “high.”
CBD products are sold in varying
dosages that might or might not contain
very small percentages of THC, as well.
The products range from tinctures taken
under the tongue, capsules, gummies and
lotions. Depending on what state a pharmacy
is in, it can sell it on a retail basis.
DME pharmacies understand that incontinence
is a common issue. In fact, the
National Association for Incontinence
estimates that 25 million adults experience
some form of urinary incontinence. Despite
the large number of people that deal
with incontinence, the stigma surrounding
the issue remains, leaving consumers of incontinence
products feeling embarrassed
when looking for a product that best suits
them. The way that HME pharmacies
showcase their incontinence products can
go a long way in helping these consumers
find what they need.
That said, no two incontinence patients
are alike. Often have specific needs
that can be solved by specific product
solutions. In a survey conducted by
ParentGiving.com, an online organization
and resource dedicated to caregiver support,
incontinence consumers noted lack
of products as being a top concern when
attempting to manage incontinence.
When customers can find the right products
for them, they feel more confident
they can avoid accidents and will lead
their lives more fully and independently.
So it’s key for DME pharmacies to
stock a well-rounded range of incontinence
products. Look beyond the national
name brands and ensure you know
all the offerings on the market.
In stocking incontinence offerings,
pharmacies can use signage to make it
easier for customers to know that incontinence
solutions are available and where
they are located in the store. Customers
who prefer discretion when shopping for
incontinence products will appreciate
a clearly marked store where they can
navigate to the products without having
to ask a lot of questions.
Also, consider offering a private place
where staff can discuss incontinence
offerings with clients in a way that makes
them feel less self-conscious about
discussing their issues, needs and preferences.
ORTHOTICS AND ORTHOPEDICS
Orthotics and orthopedic devices
cover a wide range of products, including
footwear, splints and braces, and posture
support. Though some orthopedic
and orthotic products are reimbursable
through Medicare or private pay insurance,
customers aren’t always able to get
the items they want or the items that best
individually suit them. Customers also
don’t want to wait for reimbursement before
they can have access to the products
that they need. This means pharmacies are
in an ideal position to fill a customer need
while increasing cash sales.
Moreover, there are more customers
for these goods than might you might
initially think. For instance, athletes
are a large consumer base for orthotic
products, such as knee braces and wrist
splints. Stoking products strategically
around those needs can be very effective
for the DME pharmacy stoking
those items. For instance, it could rotate
orthotic displays by the injuries and
aches related to specific sports seasons.
The pharmacy could, for example, stock
braces for treating shin splints for runners
and soccer players during peak times of
the year when those sports are in season.
These types of products come in different
sizes, and arranging the display by size helps customers find the size they need more easily. Having
staff on hand to guide customers through their purchases will
ensure that they are fitted properly.
Video is also a good selling and educational tool. Pharmacies
that sell orthotics should ask their suppliers if they provide
any sort of video to accompany their products.
But all that must supplement knowledgeable staff. Whether
pharmacies sell braces, supports or footwear, having staff that
is knowledgeable in the products and in sizing is key. Fitting
customers with the product the product that suits them not
only cuts down on returns but also creates loyal customers who
will see the benefit of coming into the store for their products
rather than purchasing online.
For many seniors and people with limited mobility, walking aids
are a daily need that DME pharmacies are well-positioned to
meet. People who require walking aids use different kinds of
devices depending on their needs, typically ranging from canes
to walkers to rollators. Also, a customer might not want to wait or
can’t wait to have their product ordered, delivered and sometimes
assembled; providing these products in-store opens a
range of options for customers.
Ideally, a DME pharmacy should stock its walking aids in a
way that clients can view and try them out all the options. Being
able to see how one rollator or another works, for example,
helps the customer make an informed decision. That kind
of display helps demonstrate how the items work, and the
customer can really get a sense overview of the options and be
able to make an informed purchase. Basically, if a DME pharmacy
stocks a product, at least one should be on the floor for
customers to see and try.
That said, large and extensive product displays might not
be not possible in smaller pharmacies. But those pharmacies
can find ways to work with the space that they do have. If
display space is limited, be sure that walkers and rollators are
not strapped down or elevated on a shelf. Even with smaller
display space, a customer should still be able to touch and try
Smaller pharmacies could also consider a video supplement
when having the product open and available is not an option.
That way if customers do miss seeing the product, they can
least see it in use on the video monitor.
This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy December 2021 issue of HME Business.