Experts: Don't give up on incontinence

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The incontinence market presents a paradox for HME providers - the demand for products keeps rising, but reimbursement keeps sinking. Depending on the state, reimbursement for incontinence products may already be insufficient for a provider to squeeze out any margin.

But providers shouldn’t throw in the towel, market experts say. They just need to get creative in how they position incontinence products for end-users. Emphasizing cash sales, product packages and value-added services are all ways to keep the products viable.

The incontinence market is worth a little extra work, market experts say. San Jose, Calif.-based Global Industry Analysts projects U.S. sales will reach $2.2 billion by 2012, with adult diapers, shields and briefs comprising the bulk of the volume. By 2015, researchers estimate the worldwide market will amount to $11.2 billion.

In “Ostomy and Incontinence Products: A Global Strategic Business Report,” the GIA team remains bullish on the sales potential of these products, especially adult briefs.

“The market is showing clear signs of shift in consumer preferences - traditional undergarments, normally used for heavy incontinence, are being fast replaced by new pull-on pants imitated after children’s training briefs,” a report overview states. “With better medical facilities extending life and involvement in more activities, elders are pushing demand for products that provide protection and avoid embarrassment.”

Of specific interest to HME providers, the GIA team contends that because incontinence patients “are reluctant to reach for medical advice, over-the-counter sales of absorbent products are soaring to new heights.”

Tandem sales key

Greg Bosco, director of merchandising and marketing for Milford, Mass.-based Invacare Supply Group, recommends providers become as familiar as possible with each incontinence customer’s situation and use that information to customize a sales approach. For instance, incontinence patients may have other conditions, such as diabetes, that could benefit from cash-sale “companion” products.

“It’s an opportunity to take advantage of a sale rather than let the sale go to the big-box retailers,” Bosco said.

Skin care products are logical companions for incontinence patients, he said. In fact, Invacare Supply Group’s skin care program has been a growth area for the company, with sales up 10% this year. Among the skin care products generating sales: antibacterial cleansers, moisturizers, lotions, creams and wipes.
To give consumers some ideas about purchase options, Invacare Supply Group distributes 6-inch by 9-inch cards containing pictures and descriptions of companion products. A sample card lists diabetic crew socks, body wash, callus treatment lotion, antifungal skin treatment and a diabetic foot and nail care set.

“We’ve been doing a lot to try and promote enhanced patient value for our HME customers,” Bosco said. “Where we’ve seen the most action is in the vehicles we create that go directly to the end-users.”

Considering catheters

One product category in the incontinence market that has retained viable reimbursement is intermittent catheters, says Dave Amerson, global vice president of sales and marketing for Minneapolis-based Coloplast. Spinal cord injury patients, as well as those afflicted with multiple sclerosis or spina bifida, are most likely to use intermittent catheters.

Recent Medicare changes now allow patients to be covered for up to 200 single-use catheters per month, Amerson pointed out. Under the old system, patients had to reuse the same four catheters for 30 days before obtaining new ones. Increased patient safety is behind the new policy, he said.
“There is a direct correlation between catheter reuse and urinary tract infections,” Amerson said.

He recommends HME providers educate patients, guiding them through the necessary steps to qualify for the single-use catheters.

Find an edge

National retail chains are tough competition for cash sales in the incontinence market, but providers should be able to hold their own by establishing a distinctive identity with customers, said Rick Finlayson, vice president of marketing for Greenville, N.C.-based Attends Healthcare Products.

“It’s about offering products the major stores don’t carry, providing home delivery and serving as a resource for customers,” he said.