Your customers are online—Why aren't you?
by Gary Sheehan
November 1, 2019

The internet is a powerful force that has transformed industries all around us. From how people shop to how they consume content, the internet has changed the way consumers act. Even health care, which is often a laggard when it comes to technology, is beginning to embrace the power of the internet. It’s time for the home medical equipment (HME) industry to step up and do the same and meet consumers where they are—online.

Consumers are moving online at a rapid pace when it comes to purchasing health care goods and services. The intersection of sophisticated online shopping experiences and high-deductible health plans has a predictable outcome: more engaged patients doing more of their own shopping and spending online. Consider these data points:

  • According to Google, 7% of all searches are health-related.
  • There are 70,000 health care-related searches on Google every minute.
  • The term “CPAP” averages more than 110,000 online searches per month.
  • Amazon.com continues to invest in health care-related assets and could be a direct competitor to many HME providers in the coming years.

Much is already happening in the HME industry. Cash-based e-commerce companies such as cpap.com and thecpapshop.com are thriving because they’re capitalizing on these trends. There’s a good chance that your customers are also customers of one of these sellers or, worse, that you’ve lost your customer completely. These e-commerce providers do a great job of finding patients online, providing them an easy and seamless experience, and keeping them as customers through various marketing strategies.

There are plenty of ways you could do the same. Here are options to help you provide your customers with a better online experience, mitigate customer leakage and increase revenues by acquiring new customers through your website.

Identify Needs & Goals

To find the best online solution, you first have to identify your needs, requirements and goals. It is imperative that you approach this with an honest, critical lens. Answer the following questions:

  • Do I want this e-commerce site for my current customers or do I want to generate new customers? (There’s a big difference.)
  • How much capital do I have budgeted for this?
  • How much time does my staff have to launch and, more importantly, maintain the site?
  • How will e-commerce orders fit in my current workflow?
  • Is my customer service staff able to handle increased volume from e-commerce related orders?

As you’ll see, the answers to these questions will help you choose which of the following options best meets your needs. Here are the three options you have to get an online store up and running:

1. Do it yourself.

This is not the right choice. Most providers entertain this idea because they know someone who has a company that builds websites. This is an easy way to overspend, experience mission creep, build an experience that doesn’t match customer expectations and have implementation become a long, drawn-out process. Fortunately, this is an era where there are e-commerce platforms that are designed to get your website up and running quickly and cheaply.

2. Use an e-commerce website builder.

These platforms provide a generalized out-of-the-box e-commerce solution that is cost-effective and can be set up with ease and little or no technical expertise. Many companies provide these experiences, including Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly and WooCommerce, among others. Unfortunately, like the first option, they take time to set up. You have to enter all of the product-related data into the system—titles, pricing, images, descriptions, specifications; the list goes on. It takes time and effort to get the website set up and then maintain it on an on-going basis.

3. Choose a medical equipment-specific e-commerce platform.

There are a few companies in the HME industry that include the above services as an out-of-the box platform, including Health Sqyre, VGM Forbin and Health Mobius. These platforms offer HME-specific content and varying degrees of direct customer support. They can also assist with marketing and get you much farther down the track of having a sophisticated, functional and well-supported e-commerce solution.

Market to Build Revenue

Once you commit to building a great online sales presence, it’s time to begin marketing. Start with your existing patient base; these are customers who know and trust you (importantly, you also have their prescription already on file). You’re not spending marketing dollars to acquire them, you are simply marketing to them through low-cost email campaigns and package inserts. Give them a better online experience and sell them products that will benefit their overall health and well-being. In sleep, there is a whole new category of cleaning and travel devices not covered by insurance that patients are buying in droves—make sure they are buying these things from you.

From there, you can graduate to the more complex—and expensive—strategy of finding new customers online. Search engine optimization, search engine marketing, social media marketing, retargeting campaigns—the list of strategies goes on. Online customer acquisition is a competitive space with numerous firms specializing in the tactics it takes to win new sales online. Be honest about your own capabilities going in and deploy your capital effectively as you get started; lessons learned in online marketing can be costly if not managed properly.

Patients are moving online, and whether this is a problem or opportunity for your organization is a question you need to answer—urgently. There are new competitors focused on building a better patient experience online. Insurance and regulations certainly provide some barriers, and that is likely why it has taken so long for disruption to hit the HME industry. But eventually these problems will be solved and a new platform or group of platforms will deliver an improved buying experience for patients. As an industry, we should not turn this opportunity over to outsiders. Rather, we should execute it on our own and commit to delivering an improved online experience for the patients who have relied on us for decades. Online sales have been an option for us for a long time; soon they will be a mandate.