The understatement of the world would be to say that today’s funding climate is making things tough for HME providers. Factors such as the 9.5 percent cut the industry negotiated to delay competitive bidding, the 36-month oxygen equipment rental cap, gasoline prices being back on the rise, and the sour economy are all contributing to a perfect financial storm for the HME industry. Not surprisingly, providers need every bit of help they can get.
Fortunately, suppliers are responding to HME providers’ distress calls. Manufacturers of all types — large and small, single-product category to multi-line — are offering a variety of no-cost or low-cost services to providers to help give them a leg up in these tough times. The services range from marketing support, to enhanced technical support services, to professional education, to assistance with Medicare claims, and even whole software systems.
Why are the vendors providing these services? Because your success is their success. Equipment manufacturers have a vested interest in seeing that their HME provider customers survive and thrive. So vendors are constantly looking for ways to assist providers. Moreover, it’s not just the large manufacturers who are providing these enhanced services. Even small manufacturers are trying to find ways they can be a better business partner to their providers.
So, what kinds of enhanced services are available to providers, and how can they make the most of them?
Getting started. The best place to begin in terms of determining which services are available from your vendor and how you can use them is to contact your sales representative. This person should be the best expert from the company with whom you can confer on these services. They’ll be able to let you know which ones are provided at no charge, which ones come with a fee, the details on each service, and get you acquainted with other manufacturer staff that can help you start using those services.
Financing. Some providers offer equipment financing, as well as leasing. Whether the provider decides to pay off a piece of equipment, or simply rent it over time, each option helps a provider keep the entire cost of an expensive piece of HME off its books while it is collecting the funding for that item. This can be particularly helpful if a provider is thinking of expanding its line of services into a new type of HME that is particularly expensive. The provider can test the waters by leasing a couple units. Then, if the new service line takes off, the provider can then finance some more units as more funding starts to roll in.
Collection services. Another enhanced service that helps providers manage the cash flow is turnkey collection services. Some manufacturers offer services that will collect co-pays on behalf of the provider. With rentals, the provider might collect a small co-pay each month. Multiply those payments by the number of patients making them, and that can become a huge collections undertaking. Collection services can offload that. Moreover, the services, while a third party, can be “branded” to the provider, so that collection staff call in the provider’s name, acting as an agent of the business.
Marketing. Many vendors provide marketing collateral pieces that can providers can customize for their own use. These could be pre-designed signs, print ads and brochures, or online advertising pieces, such as web banners or informational PDFs. Some vendors will go the extra mile, however, and also provide assistance in developing marketing plans, or even creating custom radio and video spots. Moreover, some savvy vendors will also offer “in the trenches” marketing help by providing in-service education to providers’ referral partners. For instance, providing a catered in-service educational seminar to social workers and discharge planners at local hospitals that is co-branded by both the vendor and the local HME provide can cement relationships with very important contacts.
Education. This is an expanded service that most likely nearly every one of your vendors will provider. Manufacturers offer a wide variety of educational services ranging from simple online training videos and documents, to webinars and conference calls, all the way to courses that provide your staff with continuing education units to help them maintain credentials and licensure.
Let’s not forget actual service. Many vendors can serve as important allies to providers when it comes to ensuring customers are continually supported. For instance, when a patient is traveling, he or she might have an equipment problem. If that patient happens to be five states away, that could require the mother of all truck rolls. But the vendor might provide enhanced customer support that can get third-party help to that patient no matter where he or she is. Or, it could be that certain segments of a providers’ daily service operation are extremely costly. The manufacturer might offer a turnkey service package in which it supports that group of patients on the providers’ behalf, and in a way that is much more cost-effective in terms of the provider’s bottom line.
Points to take away:
- As funding pressures become more intense for providers, vendors are stepping up to the plate by offering more enhanced services.
- The reason for this is that vendors’ success is tied to providers’ success.
- These services can come at low or no cost to the provider.
- There are a variety of services ranging from outsourced customer support to financing, marketing, collections and education services.
- The best place to get started is to meet with your vendor sales rep and find out what is available.
There are a variety of enhanced services available to providers. To read more about some examples of the services being offered by large and small vendors, read “At Your Service” from our February issue.
Also, make sure to visit the Business Services section of our products and services listings.