Increase in lead generation calls concerns provider

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

STUART, Fla. - It's a well-known fact that diabetes is a growing epidemic, but provider Mark Libratore is worried that trend, in turn, has spawned growth in a new area: patient solicitation.

"We are starting to see more and more of our customers being solicited by companies under the guise of doing surveys," said Libratore, CEO of mail-order provider Liberator Medical. "Shortly thereafter, they received another call from a company trying to enroll them in their supply business." 

Here's what Libratore thinks is happening: The so-called surveyors are obtaining patient contact information and then turning around and selling that information as leads. 

Medicare policy prohibits making unsolicited contact to beneficiaries for marketing purposes but beneficiaries can "opt in" to be contacted. For example, an Internet ad might drive a patient to a web site where they can check a box indicating they would like to be contacted. 

"Companies are buying them under the assumption that these are opt-in or legally obtained," said Libratore. "How would you know for sure that that was truly opted in by the customer?"

It's a fine line between what constitutes solicited and unsolicited contact, says attorney Seth Lundy.

"There's a lot of sloppiness in this area," said Lundy, a partner with Washington, D.C.-based law firm King & Spalding. "I've seen some companies that are questionable and some that are perfectly legit."

Provider Frank Suess has used a lead-generating company.

"The company tapes everything (as proof) that it is OK with the patient if a diabetes company calls them," said Suess, president of Wellington, Fla.-based Pharma Supply. "They must have hundreds of sites and patients opt-in (giving consent to) be called."

Providers need to educate their customers to be wary of unsolicited calls, says Libratore, who's been on the receiving end of a few calls himself.

"I have gotten calls from people who have clumsily tried to explain to me that they are calling about the form I filled out on the Internet or that I sent in somewhere and clarify my need for diabetes supplies," said Libratore, who is not diabetic. "I played along (for a bit) and then said, 'What you are doing is illegal and you should hang up and stop this right now.'"