Steve Serra's goal: Redefine the industry

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – Steve Serra, the vice president of Henry Ford Health Products, has embarked on “an academic project” that, if all goes as planned, will redefine the HME provider’s role in the continuum of care.

“We’re not trying to grow our existing pie,” said Serra. “We’re trying to find a new pie.”

Henry Ford Health Products is part of the giant Henry Ford Health System, and no stranger to pushing the HME envelope. Serra’s $40-million HME helped pioneer drop shipping and just-in-time inventory a decade ago.

The latest venture to create a new model for HME began to take root about 18 months ago. That’s when Serra and other members of a grassroots group of hospital-based HMEs realized that competitive bidding was a “slow walk to oblivion.” They realized HME must redefine its value proposition, from that of an industry that saves healthcare dollars, to one that plays a critical role in the continuum of care.  

 “When a patient needs to get out of the hospital in 10 minutes or a half hour, there is an industry prepared to move the patient to the home,” Serra said.

Competitive bidding threatens to disrupt that patient care and transform HMEs into distributors of low-cost products. To prevent that, the industry must “come out of the warehouse” and become a fixture in the healthcare community, creating a hybrid retail/clinical role that provides products, services and education to the patient throughout his disease state. In this model, for example, a doctor would refer a respiratory patient to the HME sooner rather than later—not four years after he’s been diagnosed with COPD and needs oxygen.

As part of the project, Serra’s working with a research firm and has begun looking for a physician in the Henry Ford Health System to spearhead the effort and give it credibility.

“We’re approaching this as an academic project,” Serra said.

Serra will also talk with patients to find out where the continuum of care fails them.

“We are going to share all of this information because if we create something and we don’t help other people create it, it will fail,” he said.