ACHC accredits mail order

Saturday, November 30, 2002

RALEIGH, N.C. - Mail order medical supply companies that feel they aren't a "good fit" for HME accreditation programs now have an alternative. The Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC) recently completed testing standards created specifically for medical supply companies.

"The concern of medical supply companies is that they're not HME," said Floyd Boyer, a surveyor for ACHC. "One fourth of the standards for HME don't fit them. Another one fourth only fit them vaguely. They came to us with this concern, and we listened."

The commission has gone public with the program now that standards have been successfully tested at three companies: Carolina Diabetic Supply Group in New Bern, N.C.; UroMed in Alpharetta, Ga.; and Liberty Medical Supply in Stuart, Fla., one of the largest providers of medical supplies in the country.

Like most HME accreditation programs, the Mail Order Medical Supply Accreditation Program holds companies accountable for organization and administration; program/service operations; fiscal management, etc. But it also holds companies accountable for making supplies available on a published scheduled; labeling and delivering supplies accurately; educating consumers, etc. The differences reflect the uniqueness of medical supplies - that they're often purchased over the phone; that they're disposable and semi-durable in nature; and that they don't require in-home care or ongoing maintenance.

That last difference is key, said Jim Weatherford, president of UroMed, a distributor of disposable medical products and some light durable medical equipment to consumers from coast to coast.

"With medical supplies, you don't necessarily have to touch a patient to be a quality distributor," he said. "This program recognizes that."

Boyer said a seal of approval from an accrediting body is becoming increasingly important for medical supply companies, because without it, they're losing insurance contracts, some to accredited HME companies that provide medical supplies as well. Weatherford said UroMed agreed to participate in the program because it was one of those companies.

"One of the gatekeepers of getting a contract is accreditation," he said. "In a lot of cases, insurers would play that card. A couple of plans patently excluded us because we weren't accredited. But no agency had a program for mail order companies."

Tina Metts, president of Carolina Diabetic Supply Group, a distributor of diabetic testing supplies, sympathized with Weatherford. Her company, like UroMed, also lost contracts because it was not accredited. The company had a contract with Blue Cross Blue Shied of North Carolina, but it couldn't do business with the insurer's preferred providers or managed care customers, because it was not accredited.

"We were turning people down daily," Metts said. "Now we don't have, too."

Weatherford said UroMed is in the process of revamping its marketing materials to tout its new accreditation. It hopes third-party payers will take notice and reward the company by giving it contracts, he said.

Boyer said the Mail Order Medical Supply Accreditation Program has been in the works for about a year. Boyer, an ACHC nursing surveyor and various medical supply companies, including the three companies that tested the standards, created the standards that make up the program. The new program joins other ACHC specialized accreditation programs, including programs for rehab providers and specialized pharmacies.

"It's been our philosophy to recognize specialized industries on their own terms," Boyer said. "There are others out there, and we're going to listen to them, too." HME