Extra effort rewarded in women’s health market

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Women’s health might just be the biggest category in the home medical equipment field, providing a host of opportunities for providers.

It is also one of the most demanding specialties in the industry.

Serving women’s health, from post-mastectomy to maternity, requires a huge commitment from providers. Not only do these patients need clinically skilled technicians, they want a provider who demonstrates sincerity, empathy and discretion.

Referral sources have exceptionally high provider standards regarding these qualities and won’t hesitate to withdraw recommendations if providers can’t deliver, said Linda Jackson, president of Salem, Ore.-based Ladies First.

“Doctors want to know their patients will be well taken care of by a knowledgeable, experienced professional,” she said. “ If a physician hears negative feedback from a referral, you can be sure you will never receive another.”

As in any HME market, meticulous service is expected. But what specifically can providers do to gain a solid reputation among referral sources? More than anything, the provider must be seen as a professional peer who shares the same values as the referral source, said Susan Kost, marketing communications manager for Marietta, Ga.-based Amoena/Coloplast.

“Health care professionals are more confident in referring patients to a specific person such as a mastectomy fitter, rather than to a retail store alone,” she said. “ Identify how you can add value to a referral source’s business. Find a need and fill it.”

Larry Knudsen, vice president of sales for Jackson, Mich.-based Camp Healthcare concurs: “Quality products, attentive and compassionate services are always valued, but focus on solving challenges that your referral sources are facing.”

Jackson added it’s important for providers to position themselves as experts while simultaneously deferring to the referral source’s judgment.

“Doctors are skeptical until you prove to them that you are competent and trustworthy,” she said. “A provider must take great care to remain neutral and never offer personal opinions regarding treatment options or the healthcare team.”

Of course, referral sources are vital to the povider as a patient contact, but as Jay Markowitz points out, their influence also extends to the payer community.

“Even though we’re in the world of managed care, no markets have evolved in the same way or at the same speed,” said Markowitz, co-CEO of Marietta, Ga.-based American Breast Care. “It’s up to the providers to determine which ones are the most influential in their community. There are places where medical professionals are strong enough to overcome third party payer coverage objections.”

The provider also holds some sway in the referral and coverage equation, Markowitz added.

“In almost all cases, if you can show that your product or service will bring down the cost of care, you’ve got a better chance of getting referrals and influencing coverage policies,” he said.

In the maternity field, providers have an opportunity to serve as product advisers for referral sources, said Margitta DiGennaro, president of Marathon, Fla.-based Global Health Connection. For instance, physicians aren’t widely aware of compression hosiery’s therapeutic benefits for pregnant women, she said.

“Pregnant women – regardless of age – are at risk for varicose veins if they don’t wear compression stockings during their pregnancy,” DiGennaro said. “It’s amazing how many OB/GYNs don’t tell their patients that.”

Another compression hosiery point physicians overlook is the value of thigh-high stockings, she said.

“Physicians focus on prescribing knee-highs, even when thigh-highs are more appropriate,” she said. “They avoid prescribing them because they think people won’t wear them. While it’s true that obese patients have trouble pulling them over the knee, normal-sized women should have no problem. This is important because thigh-high stockings offer better prevention against varicose veins.”

Likewise, as breast care is influenced by shifting trends, physicians need to know about products being adopted for the market, such as Amoena’s Balance partial breast forms, Kost said.

“The demand for products that address asymmetry issues for lumpectomy and reconstruction patients will continue to increase,” she said. “This year Amoena extended its Balance line to include top and bottom shapes in various sizes and thickness. This product was specifically designed to mirror the change in surgical trends.”

Physicians and payers may also be interested to learn about how customized prostheses have made an impact on patient care.

“These are for women who can’t get a product off the shelf because she lost a lot of tissue or can’t find one that makes her comfortable,” Markowitz said. “By making a casting of the chest wall, the prosthesis will fit the scar. Third party payers need to become aware of it because one of its promises is that if a woman is comfortable, she won’t opt for reconstructive surgery.”

The myriad of social, civic and support groups for women is fertile ground for connecting with referral sources and patients, manufacturers say.

“Offer to speak and give product presentations at breast cancer support groups – they are always looking for speakers,” Jackson said. “Participate in community health fairs, especially those related to women’s health. Set up a table with samplings of the products you offer and hand out business literature.”

Presentations at retirement facilities, church organizations, garden clubs, women’s business associations, and breast cancer fund-raising events such as “Race For The Cure” and “Relay For Life” are also effective, say vendors. Other connection points include breast cancer survivor fashion shows and other “pink ribbon” events, beauty shops, nail salons, the YWCA, community outreach programs, the American Cancer Society, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

“Anywhere you find women you will find potential customers,” Jackson said.
Category: Women's Health
Key Referral Sources: Surgeons, oncologists, obstetricians, gynecologists, family practitioners, general practitioners, internal medicine practitioners, radiologists/mammography clinics, rehab facilities, lymphedema clinics, massage therapists, nurse educators, case managers.

For links to women’s health support groups, look up the National Alliance of Breast

Cancer Organizations Website at www.nabco.org.

Effective Marketing Techniques:

- Establish yourself as a professional peer who shares the same values as referral sources, yet defer to their judgment when it comes to treatment protocols.

- Identify your referral sources’ specific challenges and offer solutions for them.

- Work with the medical community to influence third party payers on developing coverage policies for new products and services.

- Raise referral sources’ awareness of how the therapeutic value of products like compression hosiery promote good health.

- Give presentations to social, civic and support groups to connect with referral sources and patients.