One Size Doesn't Fit All
A challenge for the bariatric market is to define what the term means. Doctors may define an obese patient as one with a body mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more, while Medicare may define a bariatric patient based on weight. Neither definition accounts for body types and other variables.
HME providers may also be discouraged by the capital outlay required to provide bariatric products, says Phil Cunningham, business manager for home care beds, Invacare. The equipment is different — and more expensive — than standard home care products. However, Invacare and other manufacturers now offer financing plans that can help to spread out those costs and keep them in line with monthly receivables.
"I would say the market out there is significant enough that in almost any DME area, there's a bariatrics market, but the challenge is to find referral sources and speak to them specifically about bariatrics," says Cunningham. He encourages providers to bring up the subject with referral sources: "Tell me about your bariatrics, tell me about your obese patients."
According to Cunningham, the sector remains largely untapped. "There are huge pockets in the country where they don't have access," he says.
But it's a not a market for everyone. "I cannot stress enough the sensitivity and compassion [needed] when working in bariatrics as well as keeping yourself educated on the products available and the needs of the patient," says Roberta Jacobs, national sales manager for bariatric product maker Gendron.
Understand Consumer Needs, Put Quality First
The market for bariatric HME products is growing right along with the country's waistline. More than a third of U.S. adults are now considered obese, a number that has been trending up for two decades.
That's something Elaine Latham, a bariatrics specialist at Electropedic, sees first-hand. "I have been called 'an angel' because I listen to people and help them," says the Burbank, Calif., provider. Electropedic has two stores in California and one in Phoenix, with about 60 percent of its bariatric business online. Latham has a lot experience providing various bariatric products, from lifts to scooters to beds, which has given her a good view of the market.