For providers, by providers

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Whether deserved or not, HME providers have a bad reputation for, as one source said, "stabbing each other in the back for a penny."
Chris Rice is out to change that. Given all the reimbursement turmoil afoot, he believes the time is right for more providers to begin working together for their mutual benefit--and not viewing each other as mortal enemies.
Rice debuted, which he bills as "an open forum for the entire HME industry" in early September. The free site is a place for providers to go and network. They post a question on an industry issue or business dilemma and receive feedback from other HMEs and occasionally a consultant or vendor.
"It is by providers, for providers," said Rice, who decided to create the site while sitting around with other providers and networking at an industry event, the HME Business Summit.
"I was learning about new products and things and said we ought to keep this going," explained Rice, the director of marketing for Diamond, an HME company in Riverside, Calif. "I was inspired."
As of early October, the site's 68 members had posted 150 questions and responses related to 41 topics, including competitive bidding, accreditation, retail showrooms, Medicare's new power wheel chair fee schedule, loan closets and a company's ratio of respiratory therapists to patients.
Attesting to the site's candidness, one writer warned other providers to steer clear of a particular manufacturer's wheelchairs, saying: "We have received new chairs today and the front wheel fell off in the box--this is the same reason I complained to technical last week. I have pulled all of their products and am demanding credit and return. The price may be good but the quality is very poor." isn't unique to the HME industry. VGM and NRRTS, for example, offer members a similar opportunity to network online.
"Sometimes a provider just needs to talk to another provider," said Jerry Keiderling, vice president of VGM's U.S. Rehab. "At networking events, you'll see dealers talking business, but how often do they get a chance to do that? Their days are so busy."
Marty Falk, the co-owner of Helping Hands Medical Supplies in Allentown, Pa., was with Rice when the idea for hatched.
"I'm excited," he said. "We're all in it for the common good, and that is what it should be."
Working for the common good is not something providers have always engaged in, but Rice and others feel that may be changing. New and younger providers entering the industry seem less fearful that a competitor will steal their patient or "secret" business strategy and more interested in sharing ideas that lead to success.
"The concept of dealer helping dealer has to happen," said Mike Seidel, NRRTS president. "At this time in our industry, we are going down. You better grab hands and hold on if any of us are going to survive."