Invacare hits 'big milestone'

Saturday, January 31, 2009

ELYRIA, Ohio--The 150,000th Invacare HomeFill was delivered to a patient in February, a sign that non-delivery oxygen systems have come a long way, company officials say.

“It’s a big milestone,” said Joe Lewarski, vice president and general manager, Invacare Respiratory. “I think more and more providers, as payment and cost pressures grow, will have to change their models (to non-delivery). That’s the direction we’re headed in.”

Invacare introduced the HomeFill, a system that allows patients to refill their own oxygen cylinders, in 2002. With the HomeFill, it seeks to transform the way providers supply oxygen and equipment, primarily by reducing the number of cylinders they deliver.

While the HomeFill has come a long way, it still has a long way to go, company officials concede. While most providers have switched to the system for highly ambulatory oxygen patients, fewer have done so for less ambulatory patients, they say.

“Providers need to dig deeper into their patient base, because the cost model still works,” Lewarski said.

Invacare is preaching to the choir, as far as provider Doug Coleman is concerned. Coleman, CEO of Longmont, Colo.-based Major Medical Supply, made the system the foundation of a new location back in 2004, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“The location was a 30-minute drive from our main fill plant, so we thought, ‘Instead of doing all that driving back and forth, why not try the HomeFill and see how it goes,’” said Coleman, a self-described “HomeFill Evangelist.” “Once we saw how beneficial it was to the patient (having an unlimited supply of portable oxygen) and the company (reduced operating costs) we started rolling it out at our other locations.”

Currently, Major Medical has about 500 patients on the HomeFill.

“Patients like it,” Coleman said. “We still call them every other month, to see if they have service issues and to see if they need supplies.”

While Coleman still views higher capital costs as the primary obstacle to non-delivery oxygen systems - they cost thousands of dollars versus hundreds for standard concentrators - there’s something else holding providers back: the “milk-man mentality.”

“Providers have this business model that they’re used to, where they’ve got a bunch of vehicles out there making deliveries,” he said. “It’s hard for them to see how it would be cost beneficial to stop doing that. It’s so much a part of what they do.”

Lewarski agreed, pointing out: “At some point, the milkman stopped delivering milk.”