Family ties at Mobility Designs

Friday, July 31, 2009

Mobility Designs strives to leave a good impression with every client, referral source and family member. Based on the rehab company’s first runner-up finish in the 2009 HME Excellence Awards, it also left a good impression on the judges.

Specializing in pediatric rehab since its founding in 1985, Atlanta-based Mobility Designs has become part of the family for a number of clients, said Vice President Charlene Mitchell.

“We follow these children as they grow up,” she said. “They invite us to their graduations and weddings. When students come home from college, they ask us to fix their chairs. It shows that we are an important part of their lives.”

The HME Excellence judges cited this intimate involvement with clientele as a key factor in their decision to select Mobility Designs for the award.

“They have a lot of patient satisfaction letters - that says a lot,” one judge said. “It’s so hard to get any positive feedback in this business, so they are obviously doing something right.”

The rehab field - and pediatric rehab in particular - involves a series of painstaking processes that can easily cause great frustration among patients and their families. They need to trust the provider and understand that all avenues are being explored to get the proper equipment and funding for every patient. Therefore, it is essential to solicit as much input as possible, said Kay Koch, who handles marketing, education, training and accreditation for the company.

“Every comment that comes in is recorded and archived,” she said. “For us, it’s true that if someone has a compliment, they tell one person, and if they have a complaint, they tell 10. The funding process is difficult and can take a long time - at any point it can get bottlenecked at the physician, the manufacturer or the payer. We communicate that process to families so they understand.”

Instant responsiveness to a family’s needs is also key to satisfaction and Koch underscores the company’s approach by mentioning how staff technician Gene Brown handles requests for immediate repairs: “He invites people over by saying ‘I’ll put on a pot of coffee and I’ll see you when you get here,’” she said.

The rehab field has long been vulnerable to falling revenues from continuous Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance reimbursement cuts, yet Mobility Designs has actually seen its income grow from $5.6 million in 2006 to $6.2 million in 2008. Mitchell says a dedication to the company business plan and creative management solutions have helped keep the company fiscally strong.

One effective tactic was to create a “department of one” in 11-year employee Carol Hickey, who is devoted to seeking out additional funding options through grants and private sources.

“She’s an end-user herself,” Mitchell said, “and she’s on a crusade to make sure we are the advocate for our clients to get them what they need. With the reductions in federal and state funds, it’s more necessary than ever.”

To instill confidence in referring physical therapists, Mobility Designs concentrates on keeping them educated on critical policy, funding and clinical rehab issues. Each year before school starts, the company hosts a day-long workshop and equipment fair for PTs, patients and their families. Koch says the event has grown considerably since it started seven years ago at the company office.

“We started it as a way to thank our therapists and give them a chance to have face-to-face meetings with our sales reps,” she said. “In its fifth year, we outgrew the conference room, so we now hold it at a local hotel and feature vendor exhibits. It has become a way for therapists to connect with each other, too.”

In explaining how Mobility Designs is able to galvanize its core constituents, Mitchell said it comes down to simple courtesy and respect.

“It doesn’t matter how busy our staff is - everyone is important and that comes across in the phone calls and face-to-face meetings,” she said. “We take great strides to make sure no one is a number on an appointment calendar.”

Company: Mobility Designs

Headquarters: Atlanta

Category: First runner-up, rehab

Employees: 27

Revenues: $6.2 million

Professional affiliations: VGM Group, MED Group, NRRTS, RESNA

Community outreach: Foundation for Medically Fragile Children (wheelchair loaner closets), Dream Makers (wheelchair basketball games featuring members of the Atlanta Hawks)