Key in O&P: Take cash, be clinical

Friday, January 24, 2014

Orthotics and prosthetics, as well as other related specialty products, represent a significant opportunity for HME retail sales, manufacturers contend.

Orthotic and prosthetic products, combined with garments like compression hosiery and therapeutic shoes, offer a wide range of cash items to display and sell to prospective customers looking for health and wellness products, says Melissa Gwozdz, public relations and brand identity agent for Peachtree City, Ga.-based Sigvaris.

“The variety of products HME providers offer is expanding—in fact, they are increasingly offering both medical and well-being products,” Gwozdz said. “Sigvaris offers an entire sports line of compression products that are perfect for athletes, and the medical line has been used by those that suffer from chronic venous disorders or athletes recovering from an injury. Additionally, the ‘well being’ line helps revive tired, achy legs for those who stand or sit for long periods of time.”

Charles Liberge, executive vice president of sales and business development for Northvale, N.J.-based Orthofeet, adds that orthotic footwear for diabetes and mobility patients is a natural extension of the O&P category, as well—especially for baby boomers.

“Because this age group is far more active than previous generations, orthotic insoles are a natural sales opportunity,” he said. “Whether off the shelf or customized, orthotic inserts will help boomers continue to lead active lives comfortably. Because boomers are contributing the greatest numbers to the newly diagnosed diabetes community, orthotic and therapeutic shoes will be key growth opportunities for the HME retailer who is already seeing a spike in diabetes patients.”

Post-mastectomy is another related subcategory that coincides with O&P and can give HME retailers the ability to further broaden products and services. Jolly Rechenberg, chairman and co-CEO of Marietta, Ga.-based American Breast Care, says the business segment is about “keeping pace with the changing surgeries, fashions, colors and fit that women want.”

ABC seeks regular input from its retailers and end users to develop products “the market has been craving,” he said, adding that this rapport inspires the company’s dedication to working more closely with providers and patients.

Clinical component

Orthotics, prosthetics and related garments typically require some clinical expertise, so it is necessary to work with manufacturers for proper training. Usually, the focus is on creating public awareness that these products exist and the therapeutic value they offer, Gwozdz said.

“Many people have never heard of compression hosiery or are unsure how these garments can help them,” she said. 

In addition to providing brochures and information, Sigvaris also trains fitters in how to properly fit patients with compression garments, Gwozdz said.

“In general, it’s good to have an understanding of products, medical conditions, what types of products are being recommended, and the health benefits they provide,” she said.

Boosting clinical expertise also gives independent HME retailers an advantage over mass merchandisers because it positions them as authorities in health care, Liberge said.

“HME providers can differentiate their practices by having staff members who are certified to fit orthotics and therapeutic footwear,” he said. “Patients appreciate the clinical knowledge and special care extended to ensure their overall continued mobility. Proper fit in the highest quality orthotics and footwear is essential in keeping them healthier overall and consumers will immediately feel the value with every step they take.”

ABC offers a basic certification course for HME professionals with little or no fitting experience, but is also open to experienced mastectomy fitters who want to maintain CEUs, Rechenberg said. Topics include breast physiology and pathophysiology; measuring for fitting; product selection; regulatory and ethical considerations; and building a lasting relationship with customers. The company also offers advanced fitter training for experienced pros.

Marketing models

An important part of the therapeutic footwear segment is to treat it like a core component of the retail business instead of as a sideline service, Liberge said.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to increase revenues, especially when the staff understands the challenges diabetes patients face in maintaining healthy feet and mobility,” he said. “With this in mind, Orthofeet has built an expert team of territory managers around the country trained to work with HME providers in developing education-based sales programs and building their current customer base. These programs are designed to help build volume and profits across the entire business model.”

American Breast Care provides retailers with the marketing tools they need to promote post-mastectomy products to their customers and community, Rechenberg said.

“This takes the intimidation factor out of your marketing,” he said. “Whether you prefer broadcast advertising, printed materials, community outreach or all of the above, we have strategies that you can implement.”