Accreditation: Don't just say 'No'

Thursday, May 31, 2007

I was flabbergasted when I read through Jim Sullivan's front-page story in the April issue of HME News and saw that 25% of NewsPoll respondents considered accreditation "too expensive, irrelevant, a waste of time and a problem to deal with on another day."
Upon reading that dismaying response, my thoughts immediately turned to CMS's inner sanctum, the OIG and Capitol Hill--most notably former Rep. Bill Thomas' office--wondering if they were reading along, smugly nodding their heads in affirmation that the Beltway's collective distrust of the HME industry has once again been validated. Make no mistake--policy-makers read HME News and other industry journals to get a sense of what providers are doing and saying. And based on what sources in this sphere have told me over the years about the HME industry's image, they're not overly impressed. Deny it if you will, but that does not change the fact that HME has a chronic perception problem among the people who control its destiny--one that even the best lobbyists cannot overcome.
We in the trade press refer to our audience as providers. It is a label that readers told us they prefer because it links them with other medical professionals and more accurately describes what they do. The old terms--dealer and supplier--didn't convey the image of compassion for the patient, of furnishing clinical services along with products, of being nurturers and advocates for health and wellness. "Dealer" sounded like HME companies were in the used-car business or worked blackjack tables. "Provider" sounds much more respectable.
But with an upgrade in classification comes greater responsibility. Being linked with medical providers means following their path and that path includes accreditation. In fact, accreditation is the least of their obligations behind academic training, certification and licensing. Even if you believe accreditation is a waste of your time, consider for a moment what your "peers" in other provider sectors think about it and how it relates to their perception of you. Truth be told, clinicians typically look down on the HME industry, and a refusal to become accredited only hardens that condescending attitude. Accreditation is a universally recognized benchmark for quality. It is health care's version of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, the Circle U Kosher food certification and the Underwriters Laboratories stamp of product durability. Yes, it matters to payers, referral sources, legislators and, as the wave of healthcare consumerism rises, to a growing number of patients and their families.
Cost concerns are understandable, especially for small companies in a notoriously cash-starved industry. But--pardon my cliche--where there's a will, there's a way, and some of the NewsPoll responses conveyed a distinct lack of will. Accreditation may not be cheap, but nor is it cost prohibitive for those who see it's true value as an investment.
"If you make accreditation a priority, you can find the money," the head of one accrediting agency told me. "We keep hearing people say 'It's a non-revenue producing budget line item.' But they should be looking at it as a business improvement tool--a methodology for working smarter."
All in all, accreditation is a very small price for HME providers to pay in order to show critics that the industry is committed to securing a legitimate place in the healthcare provider community.