Don't be a dodo

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In late January and early February, I spent a week driving around California visiting with HME providers and manufacturers. Somewhere on a freeway in or near Los Angeles, I had an epiphany (fortunately, I wasn't driving): As a person or a company, you ignore technology at your own peril. You either evolve with technology, or you get left behind.
I suppose I always knew this, but the brave new world that is Los Angeles--massive six-lane freeways, unmitigated growth, ethnic diversity, movie stars on billboards, shiny new business parks, in a word: change, change, change--brought it home like never before.
I suppose that most HME providers, even if their actions demonstrate otherwise, know this too: If you don't adopt technology to improve your operational efficiencies, you are destined to go the way of the dodo bird.
Jim Clarke knows this. The New York provider has dubbed 2007 "The Year of Technology" at his company.
"All of a sudden, we have to figure out a way to make a profit without an infinite amount of revenue," he says on page 17 of this issue.
Recently, someone told me that some providers still run their business out of a checkbook. Out of a checkbook? That just shows you how years of robust reimbursement, no mandatory accreditation or other significant barriers to entry allowed many providers to operate and prosper with no understanding of basic business practices.
Of course, most companies don't run their business out of a checkbook. But let's face it: When times were good, providers had little incentive to change the way they did business, no matter how inefficient. The claims went out; the checks came in; life was good. On the other hand, those that did change--the early adopters of technology--eliminated inefficiencies and reaped huge profits.
As the industry traverses this new era of shriveling reimbursement, technology will light the way. HME manufacturers are developing all kinds of products to help with the transition: new billing systems, scanning or paperless offices, technology designed to reduce deliveries, etc. To make these products affordable, manufacturers must and are ripping cost out of their operations. Providers must do the same, and the way to do that is, in part, by adopting this new technology. Fail to do so at your own peril.
As a manufacturer told me recently: "There will come a point when I can't help them any more."