Down on, down with the Internet

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

YARMOUTH, Maine - A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, and when it comes to the Internet, no one knows that better than HME providers. Consumers, insurers, administrators and lawmakers surf the Internet to educate themselves on product; they also see the great pricing and wonder: Are the bricks-and-mortar guys trying to gouge us?
In a recent HME NewsPoll, seven of 10 respondents said the Internet made consumers more savvy buyers of HME. But the availability of that information is not necessarily good for consumers, suppliers or the government. That's because there's little in common between buying a wheelchair from an Internet dealer and a book from, say providers.
"Customers do not understand what they are finding on the Internet," said Leslie Taylor, a clinician at Select HME in Bartlesville, Okla. "All they see is insurance accepted and that it's cheaper. What they are not understanding is coverage criteria."
Nor, said Taylor and others, do shoppers understand the costs associated with the fulfillment of documentation requirements, equipment fitting and other services.
The Internet "is the single worst thing that has happened to this industry," said Joel Holland, president of Holland Medical Equipment in Nashville, Tenn. "Due to mail order places that offer nothing other than product and do not bill insurance or have any after-sale support, we are made to look money hungry and greedy."
Those misperceptions extend to insurance carriers, lawmakers and administrators, who, suppliers say, should know better.
"The dirty little secret that the politicians and the insurance companies do not want anyone to realize is the level of service we are all forced to provide and yet they want to pay for mail order," said Holland.
For providers, the looming benchmarks provided by Internet retailers couldn't come at a worse time since cut-rate online prices seem to justify reimbursement reductions brought on by competitive bidding.
But not everyone is down on the Internet. Indeed, many are getting down with it.
"The Internet has had a positive impact on all aspects of our business," said Jim Tyler, manager of business development at Americare in Troy, Mich. "Not only are we selling equipment, but it has also made our customers aware that we provide staffing services and infusion services."
Providers see all kinds of educational benefits to the Internet. They like the opportunity to educate, market, gain operational efficiency and boost sales.
"It has changed our business for the better, without any doubt," said one provider. HME