Henry Ford drives new retail model for HME

Thursday, August 12, 2010

COMMERCE TWP, Mich. - Henry Ford Health Products has kicked off what it believes could be the healthcare boom of the future for HME providers.

In late June, the $40 million provider opened the first of several "Self-Health Centers" for the long-term treatment of chronic health conditions. Initially, the centers will provide services, education and a mix of cash and reimbursed product for people with congestive heart failure, COPD and diabetes. But eventually, Vice President Steve Serra expects the frail elderly, a large and growing population, to be the company's "ultimate sweet spot."

"For our industry, it's a necessity to get into this space as quick as we can because other people are going to try and fill it," he said. "We've got to find a different way to survive in this market, and one of the things I was reading about was chronic care."

As reimbursement drops, this hybrid retail/clinical model gives the HME provider a higher-profile in the continuum of care. It allows him to partner more closely with physicians to supply homecare products and services to the patient throughout his disease state, Serra said.

In developing the Self-Health Centers, Henry Ford learned through a series of focus groups with doctors, patients and other stakeholders that many people don't like to visit standard HME locations.

"We had numerous people say to us, 'I won't come in your store. I send my wife,'" Serra said. "They find stores with wheelchairs embarrassing. It affects their dignity. I kind of knew that, but when you have the research in front of you, you go, 'Oh, my gosh.'"

The centers carry wheelchairs, commodes, oxygen tanks and other standard HME products but they store them in a back room out of sight. The showroom store has more of a lifestyle feel, with products arranged in real-life kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room "display rooms."

If a patient chooses, he can work with a certified health coach who will help him set and meet healthcare goals.

"Our company has always focused on the products to improve a patient's life," Serra said. "The Self-Health Centers, on the other hand, will emphasize patient involvement in selecting their own health goals and also provide behavioral support and interactive wellness services."

It's still early, but the reception so far to the center has been great, he said.

"Just from our press release, the Detroit News wants to do an article, and the three local TV stations want to come out," he said. "One of my fears is that the concept could sell so quickly that it overwhelms us."