The Scheme Team draws up brave new HME world

Friday, April 30, 2004

WILMINGTON, Del. - An industry coalition has ratified a new, structured framework that standardizes the names of HME products, establishes a hierarchy of product categories and sets units of measure.
The new schema is aimed at allowing products to be easily tracked.

Like a Dewey Decimal System for the HME industry, the new framework, or schema, seeks the creation of a common vernacular that will allow products to be easily tracked through a supplier’s or a manufacturer’s system.

Where do scooters fit into the new schema? They don’t. After ratification, scooters will be officially referred to as personal mobility vehicles, and further identified as either Three Wheel (not three-wheel), Four Wheel or Five Wheel.

“We’re enthusiastic that this is going to be a big win for the industry, said Steve Neese, president of the Home Medical Equipment Standards Association and vice president of customer service and eBusiness at Invacare. “Most of the big players in the industry have been involved, and now we’re hoping to get smaller companies involved, too.”

HMESA’s schema divides industry products into six market categories - homecare furnishings, rehab, respiratory, personal care / patient aids, sleep and supplies - and then sub-divides further by segment, class, group and an individual model number. Historical inconsistencies in nomenclature and units of measure have hampered efforts to track individual products within the supply chain.

For example, while one manufacturer may refer to a lightweight wheelchair, another may refer to the same kind of chair as an ultralightweight. While one manufacturer might ship four walkers in a single carton, the supplier who wants to order one walker may end up with one carton.

Under the new schema, every manufactured product will be assigned, by its own manufacturer, to a market, segment, class and group. That numerical lineage can then become a part of the product’s identity on a bar code, on invoices, in catalogs, on claims, following the product through the supply chain.

Compliance is optional but Neese expects that 95% of the industry’s manufacturers will subscribe to the schema.

“If we were to adopt this schema, and all refer to the same items in like ways, people would know what they are looking at,” said Stephen Smith, vice president of information technologies at Pride Mobility Products.

Jim Schaefer, who is HMESA’s director of marketing, well remembers the frustration of being ahead of the times when he tried to manage AccuOrder, the VGM Group’s Internet-based catalog and order entry system.

“One of the problems I had was getting information into manageable format,” said Schaefer, a VGM project manager. “ I was trying to do it on my own, but when you’re dealing with 30,000 line items from different manufacturers, it’s impossible.”

With HMESA’s schema, every manufacturer will observe the same marching orders. “Then we’ll be able to access this information and move toward an online catalog,” said Schaefer.

And online ordering. Software manufacturers will be able to lock onto a particular numerical lineage as an identifier of a particular product, and then build tools that facilitate work flow.

“Absent that I have got to be able to adapt or embrace a product that could be made by three to four manufacturers called three to four different things, with accessories, and different pricing schemes and units of measure,” said Jerry Knight, president of Brightree, a software vendor.

A draft of the schema was introduced Jan. 7. Neese hoped to have the new framework ratified early last month.