Diabetes: A 'huge disease state'

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

There’s no ignoring the numbers when it comes to the diabetes market - nearly 75 million Americans either have Type 2 diabetes or are at risk for developing it. Recent projections for diabetes worldwide expect the population to rise from 171 million in 2000 to 366 million by 2030.

If that’s not enough to warrant attention, how about this: Nearly 13% of the U.S. population age 20 and older has diabetes, with only 40% of those diagnosed. The market growth rate for 2009 alone is reported at 5% to 7%.

Scott Berner, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Home Diagnostics, sums up the market reality this way: “Diabetes is a huge disease state and demand for blood glucose meters will only keep growing.”

Based on this market assessment, the diabetes market appears to be a promising business segment for HME providers looking to expand their product and service portfolios. With blood glucose meters and strips at the core, diabetes suppliers can branch out into a multitude of categories, such as diabetic shoes, compression hosiery, wound care, skin care, lancets - even sugarless candy.

Berner says the rewards go beyond the monetary.

“There is a profit motive, but you can feel good about what you do,” he said. “Every day, I read about how helping people take care of their diabetes will result in healthcare cost savings for the government, payers and employers. It’s a chance to help stem diabetes-related wounds and cardiovascular disease.”

Any reluctance that providers have shown in the past about expanding into diabetes care is dissipating with new market realities, said Greg Bosco, vice president of sales and marketing for Milford, Mass.-based Invacare Supply Group.

“Because the diabetes market is poised for significant growth in the foreseeable future, providers who have a solid business model are well-positioned to enter this business,” he said. “Those who employ home delivery and have a low expense structure can grow and expand into diabetes. It’s all about doing more with those patients, and educating and helping them enjoy life better by providing all the products that are now available.”

‘Smaller, sleeker’ monitors

Blood glucose meter technology is being designed to accommodate users’ demands for portability, attractive styling and ease of use. In Berner’s view, Home Diagnostics is delivering those features to its customers, producing a blood glucose meter the size of a quarter and a “sleek” model that looks like an MP3 player. No coding - a feature that alleviates the need for the user to manually enter a code to activate the meter - has also been developed as the result of consumer demand.

“Our company has made small a big issue,” Berner said. “We let people adapt to what works for them. Making products with a strictly clinical look is out. Seniors today are more active and as the boomers get older, none of the companies advertising to them are targeting the sedentary senior.”

Foot care is another important product category and while carrying specialty shoes is a mainstay of the business, manufacturers such as Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio-based Juzo want providers to know about the necessity of offering compression hosiery as well.

“HME providers should have a good quality diabetic sock and compression stocking in their retail product mix,” advises Tom Musone, Juzo’s marketing director. “Good foot care practices are important for diabetics because of foot sensitivity and risk for developing foot ulcers. Since some diabetics suffer from venous insufficiency, compression stockings are an important part of the treatment.”

Because silver has become clinically recognized as an effective infection fighter, Juzo has developed a diabetic comfort sock with silver fiber knitted into the cushion of the sole. The fiber is designed to protect the foot from bacteria, odor and excess moisture.

“This is a great opportunity for a cash sale,” Musone said. “It is a low-priced product that can be used as an add-on item.”

Changing channels

Mail order has become a big sales channel for diabetic supplies, vendors agree, though Medicare competitive bidding may eventually become a factor. At this stage, however, it is a viable outlet for sales, Bosco said.

“Mail order supplies allow the dealer to reduce expenses associated with stocking the product, including additional space and rent, manpower to pick and pack orders and freight costs,” he said. “This allows the dealer to do what they do best - market their business and take care of patients. Doing away with competitive bidding will allow providers to offer diabetic patients a blood glucose testing system that is right for them rather than one that fits within the margin constraints of the bid winning meters and strips.”