The gift of giving

Thursday, July 16, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine – When it comes to giving gifts to referral sources, an overwhelming number of HME providers say they do it less these days than ever before. That’s the good news.

The not so good news: An overwhelming number of referral sources still expect perks, according to a recent HME NewsPoll.

Of the 205 respondents to the poll (most of them providers), 78% said they give fewer lunches and other perks to referral sources. But almost the same number, 75%, said most referral sources still expect perks.

If, as some believe, a cultural shift away from gift giving is underway in the healthcare industry, providers are leading the charge. Referral sources, it seems, not so much.

A few poll respondents told of competitors wining and dining referral sources big time and “showering them with freebies” in an effort to win business.

“The referral sources think they are ‘taking care of them’ so they must be taking good care of the customer, too,” said one provider. “It’s unfortunate to know that that is not always the case.”

Another provider wrote: “Doctors have directly asked us for kickbacks.”

The vast majority of poll respondents, however, said lunches and other gifts fall well within the $339 annual legal limit per referral source—the amount not considered an inducement.

Offering lunch, explained John Washburn, a Walgreens’ DME/RT account manager, is the “best way to get the undivided attention of a lot of referral sources.”

On the other hand, “providing lunch for doctors’ office is a waste of time and effort,” said David Daniel, the owner of Medi-Serve in Tulsa, Okla.

“Too many drug reps do that, and it has no impact or impression,” he said. “We focus more on items for their office or desk with our company name on them, such as pins, coffee cups, etc.”

Many providers said that nation’s economic downturn has forced them to cutback on gift giving. Some say they expect that to result in less business from some referral sources. Others say it will level the playing field and allow the cream to rise to the top.

“Medicare has cut so much on reimbursement that referral sources are just happy to have quality, dependable care,” said Michael Isbell, CFO of Cross Medical in Marshall, Texas. “Spend your money on quality service; it will go a lot further. Who is the case manager going to call? The guy with the best lunch or the guy who takes care of the patient and covers the referral source’s back side?”