Reporter's notebook: Providers flock to Heartland Conference

Thursday, June 10, 2010

WATERLOO, Iowa - The VGM Group enjoyed a 20% boost in attendance at its ninth annual Heartland Conference last week, according to company officials.

When VGM's Jim Walsh asked attendees, prior to the keynote address, how many of them were at the conference for the first time, about one-third of the room raised its hands.

Highlights from the conference:

You can do it

During the keynote address, Bill Klein, co-star of the TLC series "The Little Couple" and COO of Emerge Sales, talked about overcoming adversity. After he graduated from college, Klein said, he interviewed for sales jobs with at least 50 different companies and none of them offered him a job.

"I can't hide the fact that I'm short," he said. "The phone interviews always went swimmingly well, but when I showed up for (in-person) interviews, it was like I had dynamite attached to my pants."

Klein said one interviewer actually asked him: "How are you going to get the attention of the receptionist at the doctor's office?" To which he thought, "Are you kidding me? I stick out like a sore thumb!"

Throughout this experience, and others, Klein said he kept in mind something his mother told him when he was a young boy: "You can do it like anyone else can--even better--just a little differently."

No up-selling?

During the session "The Referral Source Speaks," Mike Sperduti, president and chief executive of Emerge Sales, and I presented data from a survey of more than 100 referral sources. The finding that stirred the most controversy and conversation: The majority of referral sources say they don't want providers up-selling to patients.

Wait a minute: Isn't the industry encouraged to up-sell by manufacturers and consultants, at least for certain items like rollators or scooters? If referral sources don't want providers to up-sell to patients, does that mean they don't value their opinion, in terms of customizing a patient's HME experience? Does it mean they think providers are only equipment jockeys?

We may not have the answers to these questions, but just knowing that referral sources feel this way should help providers shape a more effective sales and marketing message, Sperduti said.

CMS wants its money back

During the session "Compliance: How the Stakes Have Changed and Why You Must Change Too," healthcare attorney Asela Cuervo explained why providers must have compliance programs in place and what those programs should look like (think internal policies and procedures for training staff; and periodic internal monitoring and auditing).

While this rallying call goes back to an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report from a few years back, the healthcare reform bill gave it some teeth. The bill, according to Cuervo, states that if, during an internal audit, a provider identifies overpayments, it must refund those payments in 60 days.

"That's not a lot of time," she said.