Tap into this lucrative market
by Shawn Langwell

Competitive bidding, Medicare cutbacks, slow reimbursement rates and diminishing profitability are a few of the concerns that HME/DME retailers have been faced with during the past 12 to 18-plus months due to the Medicare competitive bidding process.

The DMEPOS Competitive Bidding Program was mandated by Congress through the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA). Many HME/DME retailers were scrambling to win Round 2 of this process which started in July 2013. Some were fortunate enough to win a bid in the competitive bidding process.

Those few DME/HME retailers who won a competitive bid are seeing cuts of up to 40 percent on their Medicare reimbursement rates, not to mention having to wait 60-90 days for reimbursement. So what other options are there for a retailer of DME and HME?

This is an important question—and one that we were asked many times at Medtrade Fall 2013 in Orlando. Virtually every dealer and distributor that came by our booth was on the hunt to add products to their retail mix to increase their ability to serve their customers—primarily caregivers and end users, with some OT/ PT and clinicians.

There are many choices of products to add—everything from aids to daily living, to wheelchairs, cushions, dressings, compression socks, etc. Few providers, however, have any robust mobility monitoring, fall prevention or PERS (personal emergency response systems) retail sections.

For many owners of DME/HME retails stores, mobility monitoring, fall prevention, and PERS systems represent an entirely new market segment for them. Most of the DME/HME owners and professionals I spoke with at Medtrade expressed a need to add product but didn’t know exactly what to carry.

When we explained that fall prevention and mobility monitoring represent a huge market opportunity, they were all ears. Providers were all ears, because this market continues to serve an exponentially growing need. It is no secret that as the 91 million boomers age they will reach a point, usually in their mid- to late-70s, where they will experience a fall. Typically, after the occurrence of a fall, a fall victim will be sent to the hospital and/or 
released to their home or to a nursing home.

As they recover along the way, they will need to have some type of fall management solution to help prevent a future fall. In fact, most, if not all care facilities need to have some type of mobility monitoring and fall risk assessment program. This represents an opportunity for DME/HME retailers to reach out locally and partner with area facilities to help with their mobility management program. But first, there are a few basics you’ll want to know about, if you aren't familiar.

Passive vs. Active Mobility Monitoring

Passive fall prevention or mobility monitoring will typically include a corded or cordless pressure pad or floor mat that communicates to a receiver or monitor that, in turn, will notify a caregiver that a patient is about to get up from a chair or bed.

A good example of passive monitoring is a fall prevention monitor that allows more caregiver freedom through the use of a wireless signal transmitted to a pager when a patient needs assistance. Using a pressure sensor pad that can be placed under a resident and connected to a monitor, the caregiver is notified when the patient attempts to move. When a patient gets up and pressure is released from the sensor pad, it sends a wireless signal to a caregiver pager, alerting the caregiver that the patient is in need of assistance.

Unlike passive mobility monitoring, active mobility monitoring requires some form of action by the patient to indicate they need help. This action may require pushing a call for help button on a local nurse call system or a personal emergency response system (PERS).

Other active systems offer a two way intercom system between a patient and caregiver. There are even some systems that will passively call 911 or emergency personnel when a patient or user has actually fallen.

Which Products Should I Carry?

The answer depends on who your primary customer is. Are they caregivers for a home environment or in a nursing home? Do they need to monitor for fall prevention, elopement or both. Your core customer and/or new market opportunities will dictate which products you should carry. The short answer is carrying the best products at the right price that meet the needs of your customers. Some manufacturers have developed product bundle options that are ideal for HME/DME retailers. These bundles might include both passive and active systems that offer a fair margin for you to turn a profit.

Regardless of which products you choose to add to your retail mix, fall management education and product solutions are critical for a DME/HME success. Both your team and your customers need to know the key benefits of the products and how they can meet their needs. Most manufacturers provide strong marketing and training tools to help you introduce and develop your product selection.

Improve Your Online Storefront

Don’t forget about the online marketplace—it allows you to keep your store open 24/7 and reach a far wider area of customers. Creating a strong website makes it easier for your customers to do business with you. If your website is not where you would like it, schedule an update. The rewards are well worth the effort. More importantly, it will help you build a more loyal customer base making it easier for repeat purchases increasing your revenue and profitability.