No time for napping in the hospital bed market

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Recent Medicare billing data from CMS shows standard hospital bed provision maintaining a static level while other categories, such as respiratory, wheelchairs and orthotic supplies are growing steadily. Various factors, such as eligibility and reimbursement levels could account for the lethargy, but bed and support surface manufacturers say it also could be that providers aren’t fully exploring the product’s potential.

“Providers need to decide if they want to specialize in beds or just offer a product that is an adjunct to their existing business,” said Abbey Daniels, CEO of Sentech Medical Systems, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “If they want to specialize in beds, they need to make informed decisions about how to differentiate themselves from others in the market. They need to talk to multiple manufacturers and educate themselves on each product’s therapeutic differences. Once they understand as much as possible and have selected a product they feel offers the greatest therapeutic advantage, selling to referral sources becomes easy.”

Learning the distinctions between therapeutic surfaces is admittedly not an easy task, Daniels said. There are major differences in support surfaces and it is complicated by the fact that there are no performance standards or common language for terms such as low air loss and alternating pressure. Even so, knowledge is a valuable commodity in the bed market and providers who take the time to learn will be successful, she said.

Providers should also establish themselves as experts in bed safety, said Duwayne Kramer, president of Kansas City, Kan.-based Burke Tri-Flex. A strict new FDA bed certification standard in 2004 suggests institutional demand for consultants will be high.

“When standard UL 2601 comes out Jan.1, no one will meet it,” Kramer said. “There will be a lot changes for mattresses, side rails and gap spacing specifications. Institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes will be clamoring for help.”

The home care market will reportedly not be affected by the new FDA rules.

Tom Tucker, vice president of sales for DME and respiratory for Mundelein, Ill.-based Medline Industries, speculates that changing demographics could also be partly responsible for a sluggish bed market.

“Patients are healthier and more active than they used to be,” he said. “They’re not spending as much time in bed.”

Still, beds are a valuable tool in helping prevent decubitus ulcers and providers serving the wound care market should be emphasizing that point to referral sources, Tucker noted.

“Talk with physicians and home nursing agencies about how proper skin care prevents the wound,” he said. “Used together as a complete system, incontinence garments, skin creams and beds with alternating pressure pads promote strong, healthy skin.”

To be sure, decubitus ulcer patients are a primary market, but general consumers seeking comfort should also be a sales priority because “there’s a lot of poor quality out there,” said John Asturias, director of healthcare sales for Federal Foam Technologies, Minneapolis.

A lot of attention is being paid to support surface materials, Asturias said, with latex and visco elastic foam making significant sales inroads. Although latex “has been a taboo word in the medical industry” because of the proliferation of latex allergies, he said the substance has found a new purpose in the bedding market.

“There is a new process that allows it to be 99.9% allergen-free,” he said. “It’s a completely new product – one that should remove the stigma that has surrounded latex in the past few years.”

Temperature sensitive, visco elastic foam warms and softens at the points of greatest interface pressure. It also stays compressed for a certain amount of time before returning to its original position.

Although it has been on the market for more than a decade, visco elastic foam has only gained popularity recently because mass production has driven prices downward, Asturias said.
Category: Beds and Support Surfaces
Key Referral Sources:

Physicians (general practice, internal medicine, dermatologists, spinal cord specialists, chiropractors), physical therapists, occupational therapists, wound care nurses, registered dieticians, hospital discharge planners, home health agencies, hospice agencies, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, social service agencies.

Effective Marketing Techniques:

- Become a bed specialist by studying the market and learning about the therapeutic differences in support surfaces.

- Likewise, become an expert in bed safety and serve as a consultant to institutions needing compliance help with the FDA’s UL 2601 bed certification standard.

- Promote support surfaces as a complete skin care system together with incontinence garments and skin care products.

- Consider handling new support surface materials, such as latex and visco elastic foam, and heavy-duty beds for bariatric patients.