People have thrown around the words “re-invent,” “re-imagine,” and “re-purpose” in regards to their career, their life’s goals, their outlook, and their businesses quite a bit in the last decade. It is considered chic to reinvent ourselves—in both our personal lives and our careers and businesses. And it’s becoming more and more useful and important to do that in our DME businesses today. Reimbursement changes (and by “changes”, we almost always mean “cuts”), as well as technological advances, coupled with the changing styles of consumerism, how people shop, and the fact that customers are willing to pay for an increasing amount of their healthcare all make the environment ripe and ready for change!
For every argument about sticking to your core mission, there’s a competing philosophy that says you must adapt to the times and embrace change. Jimmy Dean, country music star and later entrepreneur and philanthropist, once famously said, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to reach my destination”. Our industry and the business owners who comprise its ranks need to be open to change and re-evaluate their businesses and how they operate.
So, what is a DME owner to do? What changes are trending in the industry that we can consider? Here’s a list of some common – and some not-so-common – trends in how businesses are changing and adapting to the new reality that is healthcare:
For many years, retail was something many if not most DME organizations avoided. Our customer service reps were too busy answering phones to wait on customers in a showroom. Perhaps because we are more likely to be spending our own money (as opposed to insurance, Medicare, etc.), folks are more willing to visit our DME stores than before. Caregivers and loved ones are increasingly involved in the purchase/search for medical care, products, and supplies. You’ll need staff to handle the traffic and provide customer service along with sales and you’ll need a location that is in a convenient part of town. But, the payoff can be considerable. Most DME organizations that provide retail services report that they get more traffic in their stores than in the past and the trend is increasing.
If you don’t think mail order services are worth investigating, consider Amazon. They’ve literally changed the way America shops. Malls are closing across the country because of this trend, and if you don’t believe that this method can work for healthcare, remember that Amazon is ramping up a mail order pharmacy. Their delivery model is efficient and tough to compete with. But they don’t have licenses and credentialing to provide DMEPOS and you do! Mail order has become an effective way to distribute urologicals, enteral products, CPAP masks and supplies, diabetic testing materials, and a whole host of other products.
Who better than a DME that sells grab bars, bathroom safety equipment, and mobility devices to install stair glide systems, build appropriate and safe ramps for home access, and make a person’s bathroom safe for someone that has difficulty moving around? We know the products and we often have a built-in database of potential customers. Many of the same referral sources that send a patient who needs a wheelchair to a DME are also looking for a good, reliable home modification company to send new customers to.
Cartoon character Winnie the Pooh—famous for his whip smart and simple logic—said “I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been”. As DME owners, we need to constantly re-evaluate which product lines and which services are working and which aren’t. Gone are the days that we can be “all things to all people.” If your core business is respiratory products such as PAP and oxygen but you added bent metal DME and general medical supplies over the years, would it make sense to go back to your core business? Bilging off product lines that are no longer profitable can help us focus our energies on products and services that are still worthwhile.
For many organizations, narrowly focusing on a specialty makes sense. For others, however, adding additional product lines might make more sense. If you have set up a business to deliver hospital beds, you probably have a warehouse, an area to clean and repair equipment, delivery personnel and vehicles, and customer service to answer the phones when these hospital bed customers call you with issues. Why not put these resources to work for you in other areas? The goal here isn’t to become all things to all people but rather to keep your staff busy, and utilize the skills and reputation you’ve developed in other, complementary areas.
The most important aspect of reinvention is to think it through. What’s good for other DME organizations isn’t necessarily good for you! But staying open to change and willing to consider other options can open a whole new avenue of opportunity and hopefully a better income stream.