This Birmingham, Alabama, based provider prioritizes customer service.
by Kristin Easterling
September 21, 2016

It’s all about relationships. Jonathan Temple of OxyMed in Birmingham, Alabama, isn’t big on clichés, but he does make a point to build relationships—with customers, with referral sources and with his employees.

“Relationships are the real key to getting to where we are,” says Temple.

Where is that? Well, it’s an interesting story.

OxyMed began in 2004 in Rainsville, Alabama, under the ownership of Rhonda and John Whidbee. Temple and his son, Josh, helped the Whidbees get OxyMed off the ground; Josh aided the couple in achieving their Medicare licensing requirements. In 2010, Temple purchased OxyMed from the Whidbees while Rhonda was battling breast cancer. (She made a full recovery, and is now general manager of the two OxyMed branches.) Temple then expanded to a second store in Birmingham. In the first year of operation in Birmingham, OxyMed saw revenue increase from $400,000 to more than $1 million. Today, the Birmingham location of OxyMed is the largest CPAP showroom in the Southeast.

Temple focused on building the retail side of his respiratory business after losing the Medicare competitive bid for respiratory supplies in 2013. Temple also worked closely with his referral sources to maintain relationships and help them through the maze of competitive bidding headaches and trials.

“Because we maintained our relationships, our referral sources would send us their non-Medicare patients,” Temple says. “We couldn’t service their Medicare patients, but we could take their private pay and cash patients and serve them.”

The Medicare situation changed slightly this year when OxyMed won a bid for CPAP, oxygen supplies and nebulizers. Temple says some patients were waiting for OxyMed to get the bid before exploring other options. Winning the bid has opened the door for additional private payers and referral sources to work with OxyMed.

Though winning the respiratory bid is big news for OxyMed, the store has felt the strain of competitive bidding. Temple has stopped on-call servicing of patients’ oxygen machines, instead doing scheduled maintenance when his technicians are in a particular area of the city. He has maintained emergency services.

Temple advises other HMEs who are facing these cuts, “The first thing you have to do is communicate to your patients what is going on—what we were able to do in the past, we are not able to do now.” Like all HMEs, Temple says about the cuts affecting the marketplace, “We want to keep patients at home and do our best to maintain the highest level of service.”

Temple saw many of his customers come in with broken CPAP machines, and knew this was a need to be filled in his service area. Most insurance companies will replace a machine every three to five years, but sometimes a machine breaks before that time. Temple sent Josh to become a factory-certified CPAP repair technician. As soon as OxyMed began advertising their repair business, store revenue increased significantly.

OxyMed is set up to be a retail competitor with websites such as cpap.com. Temple sees customers come into the store with masks purchased online that do not fit and do not work for them, but they cannot return them after using. OxyMed carries Philips Respironics, ResMed, Fisher & Paykel and Drive DeVilbiss CPAP products in the store. Customers can come in and be fitted for a mask they may have seen advertised and want to try, or the mask their doctor has prescribed. OxyMed offers a guarantee on their masks: if the customer is not comfortable and happy with the fit of the mask within 15 days, OxyMed will take the mask back and work to find a better fit. This guarantee ultimately saves the customer money and time trying to achieve compliance.

Personalized customer servicePersonalized customer service is always a priority at OxyMed. There is a 15-day satisfaction guarantee on all masks the store sells to customers, and employees also place a big focus on compliance.

Ensuring the proper fit and comfort of the mask is step two in patient compliance. Step one, at least for OxyMed, is ensuring patients know what compliance actually is. When a patient purchases a CPAP from OxyMed, “We explain what compliance is and have the patient sign a statement that they understand, and will be compliant or they won’t have a CPAP,” says Temple. “We tell them what to expect when transitioning to CPAP and the possible side effects—so there are no surprises or anxiety—and try to convince them of the incentive for compliance, which is the health benefits.” OxyMed currently utilizes both the Respironics and ResMed patient-management platforms to track compliance.

For Temple, taking over OxyMed from the Whidbees back in 2010 has proven to be a successful adventure. He maintains the number one lesson he has learned through all of this is to build a relationship with your referral sources and to communicate to let them know what is happening with your business.

Temple offers this advice for other HMEs thinking of starting retail sales: “Don’t worry about thinking outside the box; destroy the box, pretend there is no box and go from there. Throw stuff up against the wall and see what sticks.”

If he could go back and start over, he would jump onto technology opportunities such as accessible billing, cloud-based programs and faster scanners much sooner.

“I would have no paper files. I did research, and the average person working in an office with paper files spends five hours a week looking for documentation,” Temple says. OxyMed offers online bill pay options for patients, which has greatly increased collections.

While Temple might change his approach to technology, he would never change his approach to patient care in the store, for that is the heart of OxyMed’s mission. To that end, OxyMed recently began an outreach for those in the community who cannot afford the cost of insurance or equipment. If an uninsured patient is referred to the store, OxyMed provides their equipment at no cost.

“We work with nonprofits who are doing the same thing,” says Temple. “We are a local health care company, and we make what we do personal. It’s a blessing for us to be able to give back to the community.”