HME's guiding principle: Care for patients

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The patient and their families. It's all about helping the patient and their families, and no one--not our industry, CMS or Congress--should lose sight of the ones we ultimately serve.
That's a hard message to keep in focus as the industry is faced with the storm of reimbursement cuts, competitive bidding and other changes in the way we run our business. However, we must not lose sight of the mission to improve people's lives through our products and services delivered in a professional, compassionate manner. Change is difficult for any organization, and this industry is no different from any large company. There are divisions that compete, "office politics" at play and issues that divide management. But for any company to survive change, there must be a guiding principle that unites the employees. I would argue that for this industry to weather the changes ahead, we must keep in mind that our guiding principle is to take care of patients and their families.
Those are nice statements, but how do we accomplish this goal as an industry? The first step is with our professionalism. We are part of the healthcare system, and to be recognized as such, we must act like professionals. Providing medical equipment to patients and families is not just a business. We are a vital link in the healthcare chain. Certification, licensure and, yes, accreditation are steps toward demonstrating our professionalism. Every other segment of the healthcare system requires some type of licensure, board certification or accreditation, whether it be physicians, nurses, hospitals, or physical or occupational therapists. Third-party payers and, increasingly, patients and their families, look at these types of measures as a benchmark for quality. They provide a standard by which services can be compared and, in theory, a minimum standard of competence and expertise. If these measures truly serve to boost our level of professionalism in the eyes of our patients and their families, we are doing the right thing.
Second, we must demonstrate that our products and services add value to our patients' lives. As our healthcare system becomes ever more burdened with escalating costs, we must be able to show that we accomplish our goal of improving people's lives. This objective is accomplished by conducting well-designed, clinically-focused studies that validate the worth of our products and services. This doesn't mean just showing that our products work. We must be able to establish that our products improve patient outcomes. This is a major step for an industry that, in the past, has often had scant research to back up claims of medical necessity. Once again, if we demonstrate our value to our patients, their families, physicians and other healthcare professionals, we have taken another integral step toward accomplishing our goal.
Finally, we must be advocates for our patients and their families. Building upon our professionalism and our data, we must be united, vocal advocates. Advocacy comes in many forms, and we do this now when we provide documentation to payers or contact physicians about an alternative product or service. Membership in organizations like AAHomecare, the MED Group, VGM and the National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology (NCART) also shows support for our patients. Unfortunately, this industry is relatively small compared to other healthcare stakeholders. Moreover, it is so diverse that our message of advocacy for patients and their families can sometimes be fragmented and unclear. To be effective advocates, we must be united and speak with one voice on critical issues that significantly affect the lives of our patients. With a combined strength and a cohesive, patient-centric message, we will be heard. And our patients and their families will benefit from our voice.
As an industry, we face enormous challenges in the coming months. Change is inevitable and we must have a beacon to guide us in our actions. We are healthcare professionals, and we do positively impact the lives of our patients and their families. Despite the pressures of competitive bidding, quality standards, new policies and coding changes that affect the way we conduct business, we must never lose sight of our focus and our goal to first, take care of the patient. If we remain steadfast and committed to that one goal, we will continue to see our industry mature and become more integrated into the healthcare system.

Mike Hammes is chairman and CEO of Sunrise Medical.