Caring for kids: It shouldn’t be just a slogan

Monday, January 31, 2005

While all clinicians are concerned about the welfare of their patients, those serving the pediatric population have a keen sensitivity and are especially selective when it comes to the HME companies they choose. Therefore, product vendors strongly advise providers to “walk the walk” when it comes to informing referral sources about the scope of their services. The clinicians in charge of prescribing therapies and products for their patients need to know that the HME provider will be a critical part of the caregiving team.

“Referral sources want someone who is serious about caring for children and not someone who will just show up and take product orders,” said Tom Blaney, manager of specialty sales for Bolingbrook, Ill.-based Sammons Preston Roylan. “They depend on the HME provider to help them find solutions to their patients’ needs.”

Given that standard, providers serving the pediatric market need to be committed to every facet of each product category they offer, whether it be respiratory, mobility, rehab, orthopedics or durable medical equipment.

“The HME provider is the clinician’s assistant,” Blaney said. “They need expert advice to help them prescribe the right equipment for each patient.”

By understanding a particular disease state, it stands to reason that the provider will know how to work with the clinician to relieve the symptoms. With respiratory diseases, the physician’s goal is to have the child’s disease state, such as asthma, brought under control by the prescribed nebulizer therapy, said Rob Lee, director of marketing for PARI Respiratory Equipment, Monterey, Calif.

“The key word is ‘compliance’,” Lee said. “If the patient is compliant in taking the prescribed aerosol medication, then the symptom should be relieved. When patients don’t follow the prescribed regimen, exacerbating factors can happen, such as emergency room visits and even death.”

Providers also need to explain the total costs associated with non-compliance, Lee said.

“Non-compliance causes patients to make repeated visits to the physician’s office,” he said. “Reducing that number is a major way of endearing yourself with that referral source.”

Besides knowing the entire range of subtleties for product provision, HME companies need to know the intricacies of funding in a market renowned for stringent insurance coverage policies, added Amy Belleau, marketing director for Ann Arbor, Mich.-based DanMar Products.

“They need to be at the top of their game and do their very best with regard to funding,” she said. “Medicaid and private insurers can be very reluctant to provide coverage for pediatric products. Providers need to be billing specialists who know the ins and outs of these policies and work toward getting products coded for reimbursement. The patients and their families are counting on it.”

Innovative new products are always attention-getters and with FLA Orthopedics’ recent announcement that the Miramar, Fla.-based manufacturer is entering the pediatric market, providers not only have a good reason to visit their existing referral sources, but seek out new ones as well, said Rhonda Machin, vice president of marketing.

“We had a lot of requests from our dealers that their referral sources had a huge need for pediatric orthopedic braces,” she said. “Historically what we’ve seen is manufacturers taking an adult orthopedic brace, shrink it down and call it a pediatric brace. But kids dimensions and measurements are somewhat different, so we’ve approached it differently. We’ve designed these braces based on measurements that would fit 95% of children, from infants, to toddlers to pre-teens.”

Unveiled just after Medtrade 2004, the Supports for Me line of orthopedic supports is designed mainly for retail sales and is targeted primarily at the youth sports audience.

“It’s for the 13-year-old gymnast who needs ankle support or a knee brace,” Machin said. “It’s not a deep market, but it’s a nice niche to offer.”

Though pediatricians will make some referrals for orthopedic supports, the smart provider will also be focusing on becoming a familiar name around youth centers and sports medicine clinics, she said.

Exhibiting at professional association trade shows, such as the American Occupational Therapy Association, is also a way to establish brand identity with key referral sources, Blaney added.

PARI’s direct sales staff is helping providers out in a couple ways through contact with prescribing physicians – first by informing the referral sources where they can get PARI brand respiratory products, and second by collecting intelligence on what clinicians look for in a pediatric respiratory provider.

“Many physicians want the respiratory provider to quickly deliver a nebulizer so the patient can begin therapy immediately,” Lee said. “They also may prefer that the delivery technician train the patient’s parents on how to properly operate the device.”

In response, the company created an instructional video that technicians can review with parents and answer questions. The same video is also on the PARI Web site in case anyone needs a refresher course, Lee said.

Sammons Preston Roylans plans to launch some new products later in 2005, but continues to promote its antimicrobial-coated TumbleForms seating line. The coating, which is added during the manufacturing process, is designed to add an extra layer of protection in addition to a normal cleaning regimen, Blaney said.

Though DanMar doesn’t have a new protective headgear line, the company is constantly researching how to improve its standard style of helmets, aquatic therapy and seating products, Belleau said. The company also takes great pride in custom orders.

“If a patient needs more than our standard soft shell helmet, we have technicians who will take a flat piece of foam and make a helmet for that patient,” she said. “We are determined to supply what is needed for each patient. That is how we build relationships in this very personal business. We’ve been doing it for 30 years.”
Category: Pediatrics
Key Referral Sources:
Pediatricians (including primary care practitioners, orthopedists, neurologists, pulmonologists and allergists), special needs teachers, PTs, OTs, nurse practitioners, social service workers, parents, guardians, youth sports medicine clinics.

Effective Marketing Strategies:

- Position your company as part of the clinical care team; the solution to pediatric patients’ product needs.

- Become fluent in funding policies and serve as a coverage advocate for patients and their families.

- Consider offering orthopedic products for the adolescent sports medicine segment.

- Train delivery technicians to instruct parents and guardians on how to operate the equipment.