PR offensive

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – Most independent home medical equipment providers can't afford to hire their own public relations company, but as they say, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Members of the New England Medical Equipment Dealers (NEMED) association have leveraged their combined resources and hired  Ball Consulting, a PR agency in Newton, Mass. The goal: Help stave of state reimbursement cuts by persuading the media to report positive stories about the industry. Here's what Ball Consulting President David Ball had to say about how PR can help the HME industry.

HME: What kinds of positive stories about HMEs will you try to get covered?

Ball: We will look to put a face on the industry. The public can't understand what the industry does through the example of a provider. They have to see it through the example of a person whose life has been aided by this equipment. We plan to spotlight individuals who rely on this equipment and enjoy a good quality of life because of it. If you don't have a hospital bed or an oxygen tank, a walker or what have you, you can't get around and you can't live independently. When you look at the size of the Medicaid budget in Massachusetts and nationally, and you look at the line items that represent HME, it's so small, and the yield is so great. I feel that is overlooked by policy makers. As you know, we can't generate positive media if there is nothing positive to talk about. PR only works if there are good stories, and we feel there are a lot of good stories in this industry. There are a lot of good, hardworking business people and employees that are very committed to the patients.

HME News: A lot of people are not familiar with what home medical equipment providers do. How does that hurt the industry?

Ball: If you don't have a PR program in place that explains to the public what you do and why it has value, it is easier for someone to say, "We can cut here because we don't have to worry about public outcry or people rallying around their HME providers."

HME: There are exceptions, but when it comes to HME, most stories seem to revolve around fraud and abuse.

David Ball: I think as the industry matures, it is going to have to be as aggressive in getting its message out as the hospitals and other providers have been. Those providers realize they have to tell their stories as a way to get their fair share of funding. I think the same is true of HME.

HME: I suspect NEMED's proactive PR approach is better than trying to launch a PR campaign in the middle of a crisis.

Ball: It is so much harder to go out and tell people why they shouldn't be cutting without having explained over a lengthy period of time what the value proposition is. We work with a lot of healthcare organizations and we continually tell people that proactive PR is an inoculation strategy because once people know what you do and how important your are to people's well being, you are much less of a target for cuts.