HME NewsPoll: Providers reduce deliveries

Thursday, February 11, 2010

YARMOUTH, Maine - Shrinking reimbursement and a tight economy have driven many providers to rethink the business of making deliveries.

In the most recent HME NewsPoll, 70% of 93 poll respondents said they had made changes to their delivery policies.

"We simply had no choice," said Bruce Sandler, CEO/president of Granada Hill, Calif.-based Wishing U Well Medical. "With continued cuts, the only way to continue to provide any service was to be more efficient with our deliveries."

Those efficiencies include delivering only on certain days of the week, or in certain areas, and curtailing after-hours deliveries, said 74% of poll respondents.

"We operate our delivery system on a three-day schedule covering a 20-mile radius," said Brian Cosker, manger of Ellsworth Medical in Windsor, Conn. "We do, however, make special deliveries at anytime for those in need of immediate service."

Many providers--24%--deliver only certain types of equipment or ask customers to pick up supplies and equipment.

"With portable oxygen, at the time of set-up, we inform the customer that replacement tanks can be picked up during normal business hours--eliminating the expectation of delivery," said one provider. "This was easy for new customers. With existing customers, we informed them that we would deliver once per month."

Other providers say their patients are resistant to making the trip.

"We have always asked our patients if they can come to our showroom," said James Fallon, president of MediRest in Birmingham, Ala. "Our experience has been that they have no way to get here or it's too inconvenient."

A few bold providers say they have begun to charge for deliveries.

"We did not used to charge within a 30-mile range," said one provider. "We had to start charging in order to keep up with increasing costs of product. Clients react better to a delivery charge than they do to increased prices on product."

Whatever delivery changes providers have instituted, they say it's a balance between cutting costs and driving away customers: 54% say their customers are unhappy with the changes; 39% say its been no problem for customers; 7% say they've lost customers as a result.

"If they insist on deliveries when we are not willing to do it, we give them the phone number of another provider," said one respondent. "Most are back with us in a short time."