Another Opinion

Finding Good in the Bad

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.

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