Online Excellence: Exploring Best Practices Online

The notion of a best practice is not new. In the early 1900s, Frederick Taylor, an American engineer and management consultant, said, “Among the various methods and implements used in each element of each trade, there is always one method and one implement which is quicker and better than any of the rest.” This viewpoint came to be known as the “one best way.”

While technology changes everything, it hasn’t changed the concept of a “best practice”; in fact, it’s probably made best practices even better. In a time in our industry when manufacturers, providers and industry organizations are looking for new strategies to remain profitable and improve business efficiency, developing best practices through online media seems like an obvious solution. But online best practices are changing the way people communicate, the number of people who can be reached and the speed in which information can be sent and received.

Let’s take a look at several online best practices and how they are shaping the way members in our industry communicate and how new forms of communication can impact the industry.

When companies launch blogs (formerly known as Web logs), the intention is typically to accelerate the rate in which information is received and also to provide commentary interspersed with guidance and factual information. Most blogs promote interactivity and offer a way for Web viewers to add their opinions. While many blogs feature mainly text, other blogs include photos and links to additional blogs or Web pages with related content.

“Blogs really resonate with people. You can just talk. You can freelance write,” says Mark Leita, director of public affairs for The SCOOTER Store, New Braunfels, Texas. The SCOOTER Store has recently launched three new blogs, one for public affairs, one for educating physicians and one for both caregivers and consumers. “We can educate people and tackle some misinformation out there.”

Public Affairs Blog: Mobility Today
The goal of Mobility Today is to educate the reader about all the issues that affect the nation’s most frail population. The blog will introduce members of Congress to an entirely different world regarding power mobility devices than what they are accustomed to, according to Leita.

“It is important to not only inform them of how their constituency will be affected by changes to the benefit, but the advancements in technology and how these health care solutions help save the Medicare program money,” Leita says.

Physicians Blog: PowerMobilityMatters
The goal of PowerMobilityMatters is to better educate treating physicians on the many benefits power mobility can provide to their patients, while keeping them abreast of any regulatory changes made to the Medicare benefit.

The SCOOTER Store intends to use this blog to educate state and national organizations and to educate the members of those organizations.

“We can save physicians time and effort in understanding CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) policy changes by educating physicians. We can educate them on power mobility as an alternative to putting someone in a nursing home, keeping them independent,” Leita says.

Caregiver and Consumer Blog:
The SCOOTER Store Blog
The goal of The SCOOTER Store blog is to provide valuable information to caregivers and seniors on a variety of mobility-related issues. Although seniors were thought to shy away from the Internet in the past, increasing numbers of seniors are now going online.

“It is very important to educate seniors on how power mobility can improve their loved one’s quality of life. It will include simple tips on fall prevention as well as information on fall-related injuries. As Americans get older, it is important that they are aware of their mobility alternatives,” Leita says.

In this age of advanced technology, it is important to use online media to educate some of our most sophisticated audiences. Leita explains, “While it is critically important to educate members of Congress on issues that affect their constituency, our industry cannot be on Capitol Hill on a daily basis. Technology allows you to reach multiple audiences while educating them on the same issues. Adversity will always be synonymous to change — positive or negative — in any industry. By embracing technology, one can use it to help tackle adversity.”

The SCOOTER Store decided to go with blogs for the educational component. “I have always been intrigued by teaching, not only through action, but through words. What I have learned is that speaking passionately about an issue such as mobility can be articulated on paper. Blogging allows the writer to speak passionately in a clear, common-sense manner.”

Leita thinks it is time for the industry to pull together “and stop pointing fingers at each other. We will go a long way together if Congress sees home care as a viable and cost-effective alternative to nursing homes.”

National Seating & Mobility
National Seating & Mobility (NSM), Nashville, is in the final stages of developing a new Supplier Services Program with the intent to streamline information. “The primary purpose of the program is to make it easier, cheaper and more effective for us to communicate with each other. We are excited about the possibilities,” says Bill Noelting, director of marketing for NSM.

“We do business with about 300 suppliers (i.e., mobility/rehab manufacturers), but as you can imagine, it’s a steep curve from most used to least used. Nonetheless, each of them has an interest in informing, educating and entertaining our RTS’s, and we have an interest in keeping them informed,” Noelting explains. “Some of our suppliers have tremendous communication capabilities and some don’t. They always want a list of RTS e-mail (addresses) so they can directly e-mail information to them, but we have found that our RTS’s receive thousands of e-mails that need to be screened for content and viruses. In order to make communication between NSM suppliers and NSM easier and safer, we are offering a new, streamlined method of communication.”

Noelting wants to ensure that NSM’s suppliers know everything, including new branch openings, new RTS’s, news of note, pricing questions issues and policy updates. “This will be the one place they can all go for information and news,” Noelting says.

Do-It-Yourself Streamlining
The Supplier Services program is twofold, as it will help with streamlined information on the Internet as well as the Intranet. “The coolest part of this program is the implementation of SupplierSpace pages on our Intranet Web site, WNSM,” Noelting says. “Suppliers are able to manage their own portals or Web pages on our Intranet using standard HTML or using our custom Web page editing tool. This will let them create and maintain a uniquely designed Web portal that contains exactly what they want to promote, which should significantly reduce the amount of e-mail.”

The objectives of the NSM Supplier Alliance Program is a strategic partnership between NSM and its suppliers designed to build stronger relationships while reducing the costs of doing business.

As a member of the Supplier Alliance, NSM’s suppliers will be provided access and services by NSM that will:
•    promote and support relationships
•    provide single points of communication to RTS’s and to non-RTS’s
•    allow suppliers to easily promote their product features and benefits
•    keep NSM’s suppliers up-to-date on the latest NSM information and initiatives
•    reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of communication between companies.

NSM was in the final stages of development of the Web presence and the printed communication in mid-July. Look for a portion of its Web site devoted to referral sources and therapists. “This portal allows our referral sources to review the status of their orders online,” Noelting says.
When Chris Rice, director of marketing for Diamond Respiratory in Riverside, Calif., started preparing for the first wave of competitive bidding, he decided to launch an online forum where providers could talk to each other and share information. In September 2006, was born. Now it’s commonly known in the industry. Rice, who moderates the site says, “It’s the go-to site.”

Providers visit to ask questions and receive answers from other providers, consultants in the industry or from Rice himself.

“At the moment, we have three online boards,” he says. “We discuss competitive bidding, accreditation and general HME topics. Just last week (beginning of July) we launched a new Web site that houses the forum. It allows the user easier access to the content on our site.”

Rice asks provocative questions such as, “If you were to change the competitive bidding process, how would you change it?” He comments of competitive bidding, “Granted, no one likes it — most hate it. The service has been lacking, and the Web site is often down. With that said, how would you change the bidding program to make it both easier to bid, and fair to suppliers?” And he asked visitors to his site, “Have manufacturers been helpful in providing you with better pricing because you’re bidding?”

Almost immediately Rice receives feedback from providers, with answers almost as provocative as the questions he asks. One provider thinks the whole CMS online bidding system will need to be overhauled before the next wave of cities selected for competitive bidding is announced, and another provider thinks competitive bidding is going to cost Medicare more money than it saves. While every issue raised may not be resolved on the site, providers get an opportunity to talk, commiserate and troubleshoot.

Rice predicts that increasing numbers of providers are going online because of the challenges of competitive bidding and accreditation together and because older store owners are turning their businesses over to their tech-savvy children. He also believes more older people are going online than in the past.

United Seating & Mobility
United Seating & Mobility (USM), Earth City, Mo., home to certified technicians and customer expertise, offers an extensive list of services under a button entitled, “Our Services.” Customers who visit USM’s site can easily navigate and find what they are in search of with a list that includes Disease Injury/Management, Client Education, Powered or Manual Mobility, Seating & Positioning, Kids, Adults, Geriatric, TruCare Service and a Repair Center.

On the “Our Services” page, visitors know they are headed in the right direction because USM provides a brief overview of each service category, guiding visitors to make the right selection for their individual needs. USM’s in-depth information, coupled with real-life photos of people young and old using mobility solutions, gives visitors confidence that they are visiting a Web site that offers top-level expertise.

To further address customer needs, USM currently has both their Web site and newsletter under construction to offer additional services and enhanced best practices later this year.

Melissa Georgeoff, director of managed care and marketing for United Seating & Mobility, says, “We are in the middle of revamping our Web site and newsletter.  We are hoping to have it up next quarter.”

Online Outlook
While providers continue to face uphill battles, expect to see online technology providing much-needed solutions and communication.

As Leita says, “Trying new things, especially through technology, will undoubtedly present some risk. Risk helped create many of the items we use on a daily basis. Seniors are learning to use the Internet faster than any other age group in the country. And caregivers are becoming more interested in learning how their parents or grandparents can continue to live at home independently. Power mobility allows thousands of people to become one with their community and helps avoid additional health care expenses.”

Establishing best practices online can help lend a voice to the most significant aspect of our industry — to let consumers and the government know that home care mobility solutions are the most cost-effective and beneficial to the end-user.

“Online opportunities have unbelievable capabilities to blossom,” Leita says.

This article originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of Mobility Management.

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