Reporter's notebook: 'Seniors fear nursing homes more than death'

Thursday, September 2, 2010

ELYRIA, Ohio - Dr. Steve Landers of the Cleveland Clinic said something very interesting last week at Invacare's annual Media Day. He called home care "futuristic."

That's not something you hear every day, especially with Medicare and other payers cutting reimbursement right and left, and refusing, for the most part, to recognize the important role home care plays in keeping patients happy, healthy and out of more expensive institutional care.

Landers specializes in home care at the Cleveland Clinic. By futuristic, he means that home care is the future on health care, or at least a key component. It's inevitable that more and more institutional care will transition to the more cost-effective home setting. Remote monitoring, mobile diagnostics and other technology is already paving the way for this, he said.

During his 30-minute talk, Landers also said that "home is integral to one's health and well being" and that "seniors fear nursing homes more than death."

Landers is a good guy for the HME industry to have on its side.

Here are a few more tidbits from Invacare's Media Day:

- During a panel discussion, one of the questions asked was: What's the biggest thing HMEs can do to become more efficient? The unanimous answer: Use technology to do more with less.

- Invacare is not an "altruistic" company," and won't lend money to just any old provider, said Carl Will, senior vice president of Invacare Homecare. Picking the right HMEs to work with will determine a great deal of Invacare's success. The publicly traded company will help providers develop business plans that address competitive bidding and other reimbursement cuts, but it's up to individual providers to execute the plan. Will did not mince words. Executing a new business plan can be "treacherous," but providers have no choice and those that succeed will "reap rewards."

- Don't ignore the Internet. Seniors spend, on average, 45 minutes a day online, and the majority of boomers use search engines to gather healthcare information, said Daniel Lee, Invacare's vice president of marketing. "People are shopping more online and want to know what their choices are," he said. "As needs increase, consumers will speak up more about access issues." 

- Even with reimbursement declining, the industry cannot cut corners, said Lou Slangen, senior vice president of worldwide market development. Manufacturers must make better products and maintain quality and reliability. Providers should consider outsourcing and other strategies to reduce costs and still meet patient needs.

- Mal Mixon, who suffered a mild stroke earlier this year, made a surprise appearance toward the end of the day. He started off by saying: "Hello, everybody, I've been wounded." Mixon has returned to his duties as chairman of the board, and while he's getting stronger every day, he's not sure if or when he'll resume his CEO duties. "I hope to come back, but I'm not sure that I will," he said.