ATLANTA — Organizers at Medtrade, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, have aligned with key HME stakeholders to build a better show — and that effort is bringing back some
big players.

Drawn by Medtrade officials' openness to crafting a conference and expo that will more acutely address the industry's needs,Invacare is returning to the fall show, which will be held Oct.12-15 in Atlanta. The Roho Group is also back, and other manufacturers including Pride Mobility/Quantum Rehab are expanding their presence.

The National Registry of Rehabilitation Technology Suppliers, which sat out last year's show, is returning. VGM has signed up with its 15-company "VGM Village," and The MED Group is also back in.

After some years of declining attendance, disgruntled attendees and exhibitors who boycotted the show, "what we have tried to do is listen to exhibitors and attendees and get a better sense of what they want Medtrade to be," said Kevin Gaffney, who joined show producer Nielsen Business Media in 2008 as Medtrade group show director.

The "new" Medtrade will focus on advocacy, government affairs and continuing education, all features that providers have championed and companies such as Invacare, Pride, Drive, Permobil, VGM and The MED Group have pushed.

"With the support of some of these key companies, we have that commitment to move forward and make some changes that are
impactful," Gaffney said.

A new 15-year contract with the American Association for Homecare gives the trade association a bigger role in shaping the conference.
Medtrade will also provide significant financial support to AAHomecare's industry lobbying and advocacy efforts.

"We are listening to [everyone's] concerns," Gaffney said.

One result is the new complex rehab pavilion, sponsored by NRRTS, which is designed to heighten the visibility of small rehab companies by locating them
in one large area.

"When a small complex rehab company exhibits at Medtrade, they can get lost in the sea of enteral feeding tubes and diapers and power wheelchairs. It's just not conducive for appropriate traffic flow," said Simon Margolis, NRRTS executive director. "If you can position like manufacturers and like organizations in a more centralized area, then you can maximize the more valuable traffic that is going to make a difference to these folks in the long run."

Nielsen's willingness to make such changes has heartened Margolis. "NRRTS was involved [in Medtrade] in the past but we were uninvolved last year. We decided things weren't going in the right direction," he said.

But things are different now, Margolis said.

"Medtrade has made a commitment to try and pull in more clinicians and referral sources. You aren't going to have consumers flying in, but the 100-mile radius around Atlanta — that's a lot of people, and if you can get them, it would become a very strong regional show [in that regard]."

Encouraged by the concept, NRRTS has not only come back to Medtrade but has increased its participation, sponsoring two educational programs: a legislative and regulatory update presented by NCART (National Coalition for Assistive and Rehabilitation Technology) and a session on consumer self-advocacy. NRRTS will also have a bigger booth near NCART and RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America).

"We'll be there to talk about legislative advocacy, what's going on on Capitol Hill and certification," Margolis said. "We're trying to create a synergy that really works. I think we can do it. If we can pull it off on a small scale this year, then we will work with Medtrade again."

Other new features on tap for the October show include:

  • stronger educational courses, many of which will offer
    continuing education units at what Gaffney called an "accessible"
  • the addition of a "Hot Topics" conference to address
    up-to-the-minute developments;
  • an interactive New Products pavilion with video presentations
    and live demonstrations; and
  • a last-day consumer-oriented event with a discussion of
    consumer/clinician advocacy, how it works and why it is important.
    Gaffney said he is working with patient and clinician groups to
    attend the session and get some free time on the exhibit floor
    where users could see products and talk to manufacturers.

A 'Rich Discussion'

The plans are garnering strong support.

Speaking to media representatives earlier this month at Invacare's headquarters, Carl Will, senior vice president, homecare, North America, said the manufacturer "is going to great lengths" to work with Nielsen on changing Medtrade's direction. He said he is looking for four components at the newly designed show.

"We want it to be an advocacy show," he said, noting that Medtrade should be the place where all industry stakeholders meet yearly. "The next part is, we want a market of providers but also clinicians and beneficiaries … If you want to show someone what you do, it's not how you do Medicare billing, it's not your income statements — in this industry, it's the interface with clinicians and beneficiaries."

"The third part for us," he continued, "is it's [got] to be a good product show. What providers and managers look at in terms of this show … is the amount and quality of conversations they had." From a manufacturer's standpoint, he said, that can be "a very rich discussion because people can give you direct feedback on your product. And you can reach out to the community."

The fourth piece of the puzzle, Will said, is training and education. "Times are tough, money is tight, but people will travel
[for that]," he said.

If Medtrade delivers those four things, Will said, "the show should do well … [we want to] see a professional organization, run professionally, that delivers a valuable service.That's what we are going for."

For its part, Pride is pleased show organizers are moving Medtrade away from principally being a selling show to one that not only showcases new products and technology but also tackles the industry's big challenges.

"We are extremely pleased with the direction Medtrade has taken," said Kirsten DeLay, Pride's senior vice president, sales management and operational planning. "In the last year-and-a-half, we feel that Nielsen has been extremely open to all of the exhibitor input."

DeLay said the show has been refocused and strengthened "for these times." Medtrade faltered, she said, when massive changes struck the HME sector over the last two years and stakeholders "were not really convinced that Medtrade understood our industry."

But the changes Medtrade has undertaken should dispel those concerns. The beefed-up educational courses should draw more therapists, DeLay said, and Pride is fully supporting the complex rehab pavilion. In addition to its regular exhibit space, Pride will have three booths in the pavilion showcasing its TRU-Balance, Q-Logic Drive Control Systems and Synergy cushions and back lines.

"And, for the first time, we are going to have the Quantum Seminar Tour [at the show]," DeLay said. "Our vehicle and all the presenters will be there."

Pride will offer three CEU courses from the seminar tour, she said. "We're not the only ones doing that, so hopefully, that will help change the focus of the education piece," she noted.

A change in the educational component would be welcomed, said provider Jim Greatorex, president of Black Bear Medical in Portland, Maine. In years past, he said, Medtrade was about the only venue where a provider could gain useful information on such topics as how to track claims or handle the vagaries of Medicare

Now, he said, "You can get that anywhere. You can sit at your own desk and have a webinar on it."

Greatorex believes improvements in the education track will prove a boon to the show. "Hopefully, it will [help generate] a
more positive image than it has had," he said.

Darren Tarleton, president and CEO of Mobility Warehouse in Stockbridge, Ga., said he likes the idea of pavilions.

"It makes it easier if companies that have similar products are grouped together," he said. That will allow him to compare products he is interested in and identify any new manufacturers more easily. He also plans to take advantage of the educational classes, he said, so he can "stay current on what's out there and what's proposed [legislatively]."

"I am interested to see what has changed since AAHomecare and … manufacturers have gotten more involved in what Medtrade is and what improvements Medtrade will be able to make," said Angelene Adler, vice president of operations for Care Medical Equipment in Portland, Ore. She's aware of one of those changes — the funneling of funds to AAHomecare's legislative efforts by Nielsen, a move she fully supports. That could mean some positive results for the industry at large, she said.

That's what the new Medtrade is all about, according to Pride's DeLay.

"The thing that ties all of this together is the renewal of the AAHomecare contract," she said. "We really needed Nielsen to make a strong commitment to our industry and help fund AAHomecare.

"All of these positive changes make it better for all of us," she continued. "You'd be able to travel to one event rather than three and it would meet your business and industry needs going forward."

It could also bolster unity among the industry, and that's already begun with the companies that have returned to the show,
she said.

"Unity is what's most important with the challenges we face," DeLay said. "Those exhibitors who choose to come back have helped to show the industry is united, and Medtrade has helped to make it a more comprehensive show.