Vendors program HME success

Monday, July 31, 2006

ATLANTA - Beyond the realm of product, HME vendors are helping suppliers navigate dire reimbursement straits with a raft of programs and initiatives that aim to buoy the bottom line.
From logistical solutions to e-commerce incentives, from on-site educational programs to videos, from customer satisfaction efforts to product bundlings, vendors are making it easier for providers to do business with them, and, in some cases, giving providers a leg up by assuming some of their responsibilities.
Most vendors understand the Internet as one of the major cost-saving opportunities available to suppliers, as well as themselves. The days of waiting for answers on the phone or from snail mail are long gone. Providers can now access Web sites around the clock to check for new product, download product information, check order status and order product.
Old news, right? Yes and no. The industry's been talking about this functionality for some time, but the functionality continues to be new since providers are gradually migrating to it.
Some vendor sites are more muscular than others, of course. But mere muscularity--product info, availability and ordering--is no longer enough. Providers want additional incentives for bringing their eyeballs to the site, and manufacturers are complying.
"We offer spectacular Web specials--below cost, every day--to encourage our customers to use our Web site and buy from us daily," said Amy Boughner, a spokeswoman for Graham-Field.
Equally important, perhaps more important than getting ready answers, is getting ready equipment. 'Where's my stuff?' is more important than ever as providers distinguish themselves from the competition by trading on how fast they can get product into the consumer's hand.
At Pride Mobility Products, they're whittling lead times off delivery by stocking distribution centers with the product that providers call for most often. Seems like a no-brainer, except that no brainers always require more gray matter than you think.
Pride was able to decrease lead-times through "strong coordination with sales and distribution to identify 'top sellers' that required a consistent inventory level," said Pride spokeswoman Pam Lucas.
Of course, at Pride, as with many vendors, providers can check online for product availability at various distribution centers. If it's in, you're likely to see that item within one to two days.
Typically, it's the provider who stays alert to his own opportunities to boost revenues and maintains the requisite paperwork to sanction orders. But providers often tend to leave money on the table, much to the consternation of manufacturers.
Case in point--CPAP masks. Although Medicare pays for regular replenishment of masks, which tend to degrade over time, suppliers may forget that there's money to be made by resupplying patients with masks. Both ResMed and Respironics offer tracking software that ties a proverbial string around the finger that works the cash register.
More costly are the efforts that go into setting someone up on a mask within the first 30 days. In late June, Respironics started replacing masks for patients who rejected them within the first 30 days, but only if the patient's provider has gone through a Mask Fitting Workshop.
At Pride, they're pro-actively engaged in qualifying patients for power mobility devices. Historically, this is a supplier responsibility. In recent years, as suppliers have dropped the ball on this front, those balls have turned into bombs. Pride's come up with a number of initiatives to keep that from happening again, including tools that help suppliers help physicians know what's required for a PMD prescription.