We’ve talked about retail showrooms before, but in the several years since we’ve covered the topic, retail has made a triumphant resurgence. The DME retail showroom’s amazing comeback is a product of a perfect storm of factors in the industry. Certainly, declining reimbursement and limitations to coverage for DME products and services is at least partially responsible. The fact that Baby Boomers are retiring and becoming eligible for Medicare is also a factor. Retirees today –compared to retirees of a decade or so ago—are tech savvy computer users who are comfortable shopping on line and also somewhat conditioned to paying for larger portions of their healthcare out of pocket. The bad news for local DME’s is that they are tech savvy and capable of shopping on Amazon-like platforms. The good news for local DME’s is that they are willing to pay more out of pocket for healthcare. Retail provides a “hedge” for your organization. If someone wants the traditional “deliver it and bill my insurance” DME model, you can do it. But you also have a showroom and are prepared to deal in cash.
The old “sickroom supply stores”, the DME industry’s grandfather, was often a storefront with hospital beds, oxygen tanks, and various bent metal mobility aids staged as a “sickroom” so that customers could visualize how to use the equipment in their homes. Often associated with pharmacies or even party supply rental companies, they dotted the downtowns of middle America for many years. These stores became very successful in the 1960’s and 1970’s as the Medicare program was developed. Imagine a business model, where customers came in and pointed at a product, and it was not only covered with very few coverage criteria limitations, but the reimbursement was very profitable.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the exemplary, high-tech healthcare delivery system of today! Coverage criteria and declining reimbursement, coupled with the public’s attitude toward paying cash for healthcare evolved around shifting societal norms. Furthermore, as Medicare (as well as state Medicaid’s and private, commercial insurance plans) evolved, decisions about the kind of equipment, preferred brands, and hands on shopping experience became less and less important. No need to “shop”—consumers took what Medicare paid for. Providers had increasingly less incentive to stock multiple brands to keep the customer satisfied. Retail fell from favor and DME companies became companies that could easily operate from a warehouse and/or office setting. There wasn’t much need for customer access to the location—they received their delivered equipment in the home.
The home healthcare equipment industry has gone full circle. More and more DME organizations are setting up retail space to showcase products. For oxygen patients, it might be the portable concentrators, often not covered. For CPAP patients, there are portable units, cleaning equipment and supplies, and a host of other non-covered support items. For homebound patients with limitations, there are aids to daily living such as reachers, portable commodes, and shower benches. Retail DME showrooms also feature diabetic shoes and socks, support stockings, various over the counter braces and orthotics, and a host of other healthcare supplies.
Like just about everything else in our businesses, the decision to provide retail services has accreditation implications. The accrediting bodies have standards that cover this aspect of DME business. The good news is they are straightforward and very much common sense. They are also just plain good business—compliance with the standards aside.
The Retail Standards are a module of standards. You won’t see them in your workroom unless you provide retail. The following checklist tracks the retail standards and will help you set up or maintain a retail showroom compliant with accreditation standards:
- Licenses, permits, and certifications should be displayed where customers can see them. This includes pharmacy licenses, state HME licenses, and local business permits. (RT 1)
- Exit doors and exit routes should be clearly marked. Aisles should be free and unobstructed allowing space for customers and staff to navigate. (RT 1)
- Public areas must be separated from “staff only”/private spaces. (RT 1)
- Retail customers receive an invoice or bill of sale with all pertinent information on it. The information should include anything the customer would need to submit it for insurance payment. (RT 2)
- Retail customer service personnel should know what insurances (and other third-party payers) the organization can bill. (RT 3)
- Any DMEPOS in the retail area should be clearly marked with the price. (RT 4)
- When/if equipment is returned for any reason, the organization should have a process to accept the return. That process should include tracking, appropriately disinfecting and cleaning, and performing a functional check on the equipment before it is returned to inventory. (RT 5)
- Equipment that is brought in to repair or otherwise adjust should be segregated from the other equipment in the retail area. The organization’s process for this should include infection control considerations. (RT 6)
- Any items in the retail showroom that have expiration dates should be checked and monitored to ensure that expired product is pulled when it expires. (RT 4)
If you have a retail showroom, the front of the business is the focal point and often the first impression a customer (or potential customer) has of your organization. Be sure that in addition to compliance with the standards, you have an attractive, organized, and pleasant place set up for the public. It will be the first impression many of your customers have of your business, so act and plan accordingly.