Bath safety reliable for retail growth

Monday, December 1, 2014

The shrinking HME piece of the Medicare pie requires providers to re-engineer their business models to continue serving the marketplace and they are increasingly looking at retail as a viable option. Key to that retail strategy is bath safety and, on a larger scale, home accessibility.

By furnishing products and services that equip residences with bath safety products, aids to daily living, mobility and various accessibility options, HME providers can serve the lucrative baby boomer demographic as well as their parents, says Lawrence de la Haba, senior vice president of business development for Atlanta-based Graham-Field Health Products.

“The growth in bathroom safety products has been strong and consistent,” he said. “The growth, of course, is driven primarily by the demographics of the 65 and over population. However, more family members who are taking care of their parents either in their own homes or in their parents’ homes, are becoming aware of simple products that can make bathroom use safer for their loved one. There is also greater awareness of accessible bathrooms in public buildings because of the Americans with Disabilities Act legislation that put these products in front of people who never knew there was such a thing as a grab bar, elevated toilet, step-in shower or elevating sink.”

Wade Lawrence, vice president of national accounts for Oakdale, Pa.-based Clarke Health Products, agrees that “the bath safety market has the potential to be very large as we educate others about it” and that Clarke has seen “lots of growth year to year for these products.”

Building sales

With the intersection of rising life expectancies and the large baby boomer population, there is an exponentially increasing need for all products that can provide comfort, safety and independence, says Derek Lampert, vice president of homecare sales for Port Washington, N.Y.-based Drive Medical.

“Many providers are still very reluctant about ‘selling’ to an elderly person and it is resulting in a real disservice,” he says. “At the moment when the need for equipment is created, many wants will follow. For example, a fall can result in the need for a walker. Soon after, they will want a bath lift so they can safely and independently continue bathing at home.”

Providers should realize that first and foremost, they are serving consumers, not patients, in this category, Lampert says. 

“They want to be educated—not sold to,” he says. “They want to learn what options are out there and they aren’t afraid to consider the better and more expensive items. In fact, they expect this type of education and become outraged when it’s not provided up front at the point where need becomes want.”

Emphasizing safety

With approximately 200,000 injuries a year, the bathroom is one of the most hazardous rooms in the home. Moreover, the danger is slowly increasing as baby boomers get older. As a result, Norwell, Mass.-based Carex Health Brands bath safety products are steadily growing in popularity with seniors and boomers, said Jeff Swain, vice president of marketing.

“The bathroom can be a dangerous place to navigate, particularly for individuals with mobility challenges,” Swain said. “Carex manufactures a broad line of bath safety products, from practical to those with more of an aesthetic appeal, and our retail price points are close to the out-of-pocket expense on reimbursed items, but without the hassle.”

HME providers should be marketing a “fall prevention” solution to the patient and educating them on how the provider can help make all the hazardous areas in the home safer, Swain says.

“Providers should not only be listening to their customer’s needs, but also pointing out the less obvious problem areas,” he said. “Developing that close relationship with customers not only builds trust, but allows for the provider to put a package solution together that best suits the patient’s needs.”    

Upscale packages

Bath safety products should be sold as upscale accessories to new construction and bathroom remodeling projects so that they offer an ornamental, yet functional complement to the new décor, de la Haba says.

“The expenditure on bathroom renovations and fixtures is one of the highest when renovating or constructing a home,” he said. “For this reason, no one wants to put a $15 chrome grab bar in their newly tiled bathroom. They either want integrated fittings or something that can be easily removed after use.”

Bathroom safety products are a natural extension of the home modification market, and it is attracting more HME providers, de la Haba said.

“It makes sense because after they have retrofitted a customer’s bathroom with a bath seat, shower hose and grab bar, they are often asked if they have ramps and stair glides,” he said.

Providers also need to concentrate on offering a high level of service along with the sale, Lawrence says.

“Service is a huge part of the package,” he says. “Do what is needed for your clients to be happy.”