Meet America's invisible business

Friday, August 31, 2007

I was up on Lexis-Nexis recently, rummaging around in the most comprehensive database of print media outlets in the world. In the "Major Newspapers" database, which surveys the top 50 newspapers by circulation in Editor & Publisher's Year Book, I searched for articles over the last 20 years that mentioned "home medical equipment providers." There were 12. That's total. For 20 years.
"Home medical equipment supplier" is slightly more popular, with 34 total references. "Durable medical equipment dealers" rate just five references. By contrast, the references to nursing homes tended to infinity.
Remember the transition about 10 years ago, from HME supplier to HME provider, and how the idea was that "provider" would create a more compelling and compassionate brand?
Guess what? It didn't work. At least insofar as the general public is concerned. Providers and suppliers, the industry's stalwarts, and the work they perform, still aren't blipping on anybody's radar screens but their own.
This is hazardous to financial health, not only of individual suppliers, but also to the industry at large, as we all now know. If you're an Invisible Business, then the public at large is not going to rally to your side if and when the government puts the squeeze on your reimbursement.
Not that we really expect the public to rally in support of suppliers, but it would be beneficial, no doubt, if newspaper readers knew that such businesses actually existed.
Under the auspices of AAHomecare, the industry is doing all it can to effect change on Capitol Hill. If more suppliers believed advocacy pays, then AAHomecare's coffers would deepen and the potential to do more would rise.
But the industry's forgotten it's responsibility to educate mainstream America. I don't know why this is the case. We've been talking for years about the need to 'build bridges' to consumer groups. But again, that's all been in the service of advocacy. Those bridges are built to marshal lobbying power.
HME advocacy hasn't infiltrated the mindscape of Middle America, which, by and large, believes that when you become old and infirm, you go to a nursing home.
That's not the future I want, not for me or for members of my family. Nursing homes aren't the future of end-of-life care in America. None of us want to exhaust a family member's savings on these venues. We don't want to pay living wages for the staff. Nor do family members want to sacrifice their fifties and sixties to care for an elderly parent.
In America, as usual, we want it all but we don't want to pay for it.
Here's where home medical equipment suppliers can help. But first, to become an alternative in the minds of ageing baby boomers, you must be seen. Being invisible is no good for business.