Does incontinence market need an image makeover?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Like the bariatric, ostomy and urological product categories, incontinence is a condition that no one likes to talk about--least of all those who suffer from the disorder. Providers serving this market are careful to use sensitivity and discretion with these customers as adult diapers and catheters are typically furnished in packages with plain brown wrappers.

But while the subject may be embarrassing, could its image be changed with some dynamic marketing the same way that certain prescription drugs have done with erectile dysfunction? And could such an image-boosting campaign result in greater product sales for providers serving the market? It's entirely possible, says George Arenas, president of Sharpsville, Pa.-based Amarko.

"Fifteen years ago erectile dysfunction had a stigma and no one wanted to talk about it," he said. "Then Viagra appeared and now TV commercials for ED are common. I never thought I would ever see the day when we would see those types of ads on TV."

To Arenas, the same situation exists with incontinence.

"It is not a topic people are comfortable talking about even if you're in the business," he said. "At the same time, there is a massive demand for these products because it is a real problem. I don't see why the right marketing strategy could not turn this stigma around and make incontinence seem like a normal condition that many people have."

Rising demand

Research bears out the strong demand for incontinence and urological products, with numbers expected to continue climbing going forward. San Jose, Calif.-based Global Industry Analysts released a recent report that predicts the catheter market will reach $2.7 billion worldwide by 2015.

The burgeoning demand, report authors say, is fueled by "an aging population and rising incidence of urinary continence." Other factors, according to the report, are technological advancements and the advent of sophisticated catheters capable of minimizing invasion and reducing complications associated with incontinence.

"The urological catheters market, similar to other medical device markets, fared better than several other industries owing to the recession, which is attributed to factors such as an expanding proportion of the elderly, and rising life expectancies and rising demand," the report stated.

The U.S. catheter market is expected to reach nearly $162 million by 2012.

Countering low reimbursement

The challenge for HME providers serving the incontinence, urological and ostomy market segments isn't lack of demand--it's the lack of appropriate Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. The floor price for many of these items has dropped below the break-even point and as a result, providers have been steadily leaving the business for years.

Those who continue to serve the market may need to look at new and different ways to provide these items in the same manner companies have done with other categories--outsourcing or eliminating deliveries, bundling supplies from horizontal categories together (incontinence-urological-ostomy) and upselling customers on better quality products for cash.

Sharie Hardy, senior vice president of Largo, Fla.-based Genairex, says many products in these categories are naturally compatible because patients will often have conditions that require them. For instance, patients with bladder and colon cancer will have a need for both catheters and ostomy supplies. Likewise, skin care products are natural companion products because of the chafing and rashes that occur from incontinence.

Moreover, Hardy says the common belief that Medicare and Medicaid patients will only accept supplies that are covered "just isn't true" in many cases.

"People are wiser buyers, but that doesn't mean they won't seek high-quality options if available," she said. "While a lot of companies are going to third-world countries to make their products, we have high standards and are manufacturing right here in the United States. If customers find a product they like, they will keep you in business."