Consumer advocacy seeks to educate, empower patients

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Consumers are often the HME industry's most credible spokespeople, and now Medtrade's getting into the game of arming them to become outspoken homecare advocates.

Last fall's hastily arranged consumer panel has been expanded into the Nov. 18 Consumer Advocacy Day, which includes advocacy training, a VIP tour of the NextGen Accessible Home, show floor access, and education sessions specific to sleep, rehab and oxygen.

"There's a need for a united front, a united voice bringing together the shareholders to serve people with disabilities," said Mark Smith, Pride Mobility's consumer research and market outreach manager and a member of Medtrade's consumer advocacy committee. "Those who are only able to send an e-mail serve just as valuable a role as those who can go to Washington and meet a congressman."

Smith and other committee members say the benefits of the day will be many: improved communication between providers and patient groups; a peek at the latest products for patients; and insight into HME's challenges and how patients can help.

"An educated consumer is good, and it's also empowering," said committee member Barbara Rogers, president and CEO of the National Emphysema/COPD Association. "Some of our constituents never knew they could have a voice."

Medtrade show director Kevin Gaffney wants exhibitors to consider "sponsoring" a consumer to offset their expenses to attend.

"Opening (Medtrade) up to patients is a wonderful opportunity for them to get an appreciation for what's involved in running a DME company," said committee member Ed Grandi, executive director of the American Sleep Apnea Association.

Gaffney hopes to draw at least 100 consumers and plans to make it an annual part of Medtrade. Gaffney and the committee agree that consumer engagement is crucial to industry lobbying efforts.

"We can put money into special interest groups, but if (legislators) don't hear from the people, it's hard to get anything approved," said committee member and Invacare Marketing Manager Jim Black.