Sleep Resupply: Helping Patients Rest Easy

Consistent patient communication is a key element of any successful sleep therapy resupply strategy. How can DME pharmacies be 'great communicators?'

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Increasingly, DME pharmacies are supporting sleep therapy patients with a variety of devices and related products. As their communitys’ resource for healthcare products, it makes sense given the statistics around obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Roughly 25 million U.S. adults have either diagnosed or undiagnosed moderate to severe sleep apnea, according to the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project.

While the main sleep products are the continuous passive airway pressure (CPAP) devices themselves, the list of sleep products also includes resupply items. Resupply items include mask frames, cushions, headgear, tubing, filters, water chambers and chin straps, which need to be replaced at regular intervals. Moreover, those resupply replacements are reimbursable items.

Every first-rate sleep therapy equipment provider knows the importance of a comprehensive resupply program, which is great for the bottom line, but resupply is also important for care. Pharmacies specializing in sleep therapy support know that resupply impacts patients’ therapy compliance, which in turn benefits patient outcomes. Effective resupply programs are efficient, regular and accomplish the ultimate goal of helping patients comply with their therapy regimens, leading to satisfied clients and referral sources.

CARE HINGES ON COMMUNICATION

Consistent patient communication, a key element of any successful resupply strategy, has become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since most sleep labs have been temporarily closed or operating at lower capacity during the crisis, providers are not seeing the same flow of new patients seeking CPAP machines or other sleep therapy equipment. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that even as the pandemic is hopefully transitioning into more an endemic, it will have left an impact on sleep resupply. Some patients will have changed their habits as a result.

All this means that pharmacies with sleep practices must have a strong communications strategy in place, particularly as they become increasingly reliant on reorders from their existing customer base to fuel dependable revenue streams. This means they need to take a multi-level approach that includes contacting patients through emails, phone calls, texts and app-based communication. In doing so, DME pharmacies have a better chance of completing reorders and maximizing profit margins during a demanding time for healthcare companies.

Also, as clients desire near-immediate answers to questions on issues or reorders, leveraging the growing suite of patient communication tools available from industry software companies is crucial to increasing low-touch revenue while delivering high-touch service.

MEETING YOUR PATIENTS WHERE THEY ARE

Successful sleep therapy providers have abided by similar principles for as long as the business of providing home medical equipment has existed: educating the patient about their condition and the equipment they require to treat it is absolutely pivotal to ensuring the patient complies with their therapy and reorders supplies.

As the population of sleep apnea patients grows each year, providers must meet demand without sacrificing their level of engagement with patients — a tough task when providers are already overextended in the first place. Luckily, technology options have emerged to help deliver a high-quality patient experience, which is particularly relevant for younger customers who are more accustomed to using mobile apps and patient portals.

Generally, the sleep patient population tends to be younger and more likely to take advantage of technology solutions than oxygen patients, who are overall part of an older generation. That said, no two patients are alike.

Bearing that in mind, pharmacies with sleep practices need to support a variety of communications methods to meet the patient where they are. That will ultimately drive the best patient experience and sleep therapy outcomes. Start that process by asking your patients upfront how they prefer to be contacted so that you can meet them where they are.

Fortunately, there are technology solutions out there from the various software vendors that can help you coordinate with your patients in an integrated and often automated platform. These systems let pharmacies set up push notifications to request more information from patients or update them on order and delivery status. In addition, patients can upload financial information and insurance updates as they happen.

Before choosing a patient communication solution, pharmacies should evaluate their specific business practices and workflow issues before turning to a technology partner for help. That means the pharmacy should examine its resupply processes and build out solutions that accommodate those processes.

OPTIMIZING AND AUTOMATING COMMUNICATION

Breakdowns in communication, whether they’re through unanswered phone calls, unread emails, or ignored push notifications, can lead to major issues for providers, especially when it comes to the retention of patients and referral sources. If a patient is not reordering equipment, that means they are likely not following their therapy regimen -- and their doctor or primary healthcare provider will know it. That’s the opposite of the reputation that DME pharmacies hope to build.

Manual communication methods and tracking of patient contact can quickly lead to these types of issues. As providers work to maintain multiple resupply schedules, follow up with several payers and meet resupply regulations, it’s easy to see how making patient calls can fall to the end of a provider’s priority list and slip through the cracks.

Automated tools that take the guesswork out of communication can make all the difference in the sleep therapy space. Providers should consider software solutions that learn more about the patient’s preferred methods over time and eliminate ineffective business practices.

If an email outreach has been unsuccessful in the past, these tools will switch to guided call scripting or messaging at different times of day to find the best ways to reach even the most difficult, non-compliant patients.

IMPROVING PATIENTS’ RESUPPLY EXPERIENCE

The positive impact of patient communication tools is doubled if patients are given clear expectations at the outset of their PAP therapy setup. Sending the right message about the importance of resupply and simplifying the options for clients makes it easier for providers to seek reorders during difficult times, including the current COVID-19 crisis. And if there are issues with the supply chain or product demand, the patient may be more likely to forgive a provider who has sent regular updates in the past.

Letting patients express their preferences and learn more about their options allows them to feel like active participants in the process. For example, demonstrating a web portal for reorders reduces frustration with communication tools and improves the entire experience for patients and providers.

Remember, most patients are on therapy for their whole lives, and the longest period of time that patients are going to spend with therapy is in that resupply phase. So the pharmacy wants to make sure to deliver a seamless order and reorder solution to deliver the strongest patient experience possible.

This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy April 2022 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.