Finding Good in the Bad
- By Brian Ellacott
- Feb 01, 2012
Now that a new year is upon us and
we’re fully immersed in the realities
of national competitive bidding
(NCB), audits and preparing for the
broad changes that come with these
developments, it can be difficult to see a
silver lining. I assure you, if you change
your view, it is there.
A Strong Future
A number of factors indicate a strong
future for homecare. With the aging
of the population, healthcare needs
continue to grow, and demand for
homecare products can only increase. In addition, and in some ways
because of it, the current structure of healthcare and the costs associated
with it are not sustainable. Decision-makers are looking for ways
to improve healthcare, both in terms of care and cost. Over time, the
funds driving healthcare will have to go to the model that is most
appropriate for the patient’s outcome, as well as the most cost-effective
setting. In many cases, homecare will be that model.
The benefits of homecare and access to mobility are undeniable.
We say often that homecare is the trifecta of healthcare. It is patient
preferred, results in better clinical outcomes and is more cost effective
than institutional care. Homecare is the solution, but the promise
of homecare cannot be one of products and services alone. We must
show the inherent value of our industry to stakeholders who are
making decisions on our future.
As an industry, we’re notoriously our own worst enemy. We
describe ourselves in ways that minimize our value and don’t accurately
portray the many varied needs we meet. We sell products as
if the services surrounding them, like consultation and proper fit,
have no value and are not critical to the well-being of the patient. The
government sees us as selling a wheelchair to a person, not as a vital
role in their mobility.
We know that obtaining proper fit and access to technological
advancements will continue to make life better for our patients. If
we want respect, we need to change the perception that our industry
deals equipment to stressing the reality that we provide millions of
people with products that make life’s experiences possible. We can
do this immediately by changing the way we speak of ourselves and
using terms that accurately describe this industry and the benefits we
bring, and communicating these benefits to our local politicians. If we
don’t promote ourselves, the good work you do every day and the real
benefits this has to people’s lives, no one will.
Running Our Businesses Like Businesses
While the outlook for our industry is good, this does not mean that we
don’t need to conduct our business in a more cost-effective manner.
We need to run our businesses like businesses. As in the free-market
system, we will continue to be expected to deliver more for less. Here
in the thick of the bid process and with audits a reality, it would be
natural to be discouraged and feel overwhelmed. Adapting to this new
reality can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.
First things first: You need a plan for survival. We all know the
important dates outlined by CMS, but this process is much more than
that. While NCB might be the unwelcome catalyst for change, the
result can be stronger businesses. If you take the right actions now to
make your business sound, you can withstand what comes your way.
There are a number of challenges facing providers based on what
transpired in the first nine MSAs, but the good news is that the
learning curve is not as steep as it was before round one of NCB. We’ve
learned a lot from those who have been through this already; we know
what works and actions you can and should take now. This isn’t just
about price, it’s about preparation, and we are all subject to the laws of
efficiency. So what actions can you take to overcome these challenges
and find success? At Invacare, we’ve been stressing the importance of
acting now and using the resources at your disposal, including manufacturers,
service companies, consultants and groups like VGM and
The MED Group to help you with the steps and the knowledge you
need to be prepared. This may seem overwhelming; however, there are
people who can help you to navigate it.
We’re well aware of the hurdles facing our customers, from cashflow to billing and collections, to building referral relationships and
expanding your geographic reach. Whether you win or lose a bid, it is
vital to have your business in order and to outline actions you can take
to off set these challenges. Based on the experience and information
gained from the first nine MSAs, Invacare has identified 18 challenges
facing the industry and the actions you can take to address them.
While that is a sizeable number, and there are certainly others you will
encounter, these are not open-ended, and there are solutions.
One example is rationalizing your product offerings. With all the
complexities you are navigating, simplifying your product offerings
will allow you to focus on the other drivers of your business. Carrying a limited variety of stock, keeping units (SKUs) within a
product category, and adding new products that are backward- and
forward-compatible simplifies training, maintenance schedules,
parts, warranty schedules and frees up storage space. This could mean
gearboxes that are the same for rear-, center- and front-wheel drive
power chairs, or electronics that include easy upgrades for progressive
conditions. These examples are not only good for business, but will
allow you to give your patients better care.
The past few years have not been easy for the home medical equipment
industry, and those battles continue today, but this industry is
integral and there are things you can do now! This is no time to be
discouraged. The providers who take action now, as the ones who
did so in the first nine MSAs, will be stronger, healthier and better
businesses who gain marketshare. Those who procrastinate will not
survive. Embrace the actions you can take and know that in doing so,
you will not only position yourself for survival, but also to thrive in
the future world of home healthcare.
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Mobility Management.
About the Author
Brian Ellacott is the VP & GM, Commercial Operations, North & South America, for Invacare Corp.