VGM Group gets social

Saturday, January 31, 2009

WATERLOO, Iowa--The VGM Group announced in December that it had partnered with CareFlash to help HME providers tap into social networking Web sites, “one of the mega-trends in our country.”

The partnership paves the way for providers to get their ads featured on CareFlash’s Web site, The site allows family and friends to submit, retrieve and share information about their loved ones with disabilities and chronic medical conditions.

“Talking to providers, we’ve realized what a blind spot this is,” said Mike Mallaro, VGM’s CFO and CIO.

“They tend to think, ‘Our patients are old people, and they’re not interested,’ but I think a lot of them would be surprised.”

Per the partnership, providers pay a fee ($75 per month for VGM members and $100 for non-members) to become sponsors of patient sites on CareFlash’s Web site. As sponsors, they’re allowed to post prominently placed ads on the sites.

Providers can expect their ads to reach hundreds of people a month, Mallaro said.

“Each patient probably has 10 to 40 family members and friends interested in following them,” he said.  “They’re probably going to go to the site six to 10 times in the first month.”

Providers like Bill Stelzer believe social networking Web sites like CareFlash allow them to practice feel-good advertising.

“Being seen (on patient sites) sends the message that we care about these people,” said Stelzer, general manager of Green Bay Home Medical Equipment in Green Bay, Wis. Mallaro agreed.

“Your ad is affiliated with something that people are interested in looking at instead of something they’re forced to look at,” he said.

Of the different social networking Web sites of its kind, VGM partnered with CareFlash because it offers animated videos of different disabilities and conditions, and a scheduling tool that allows family members and friends to help with appointments and activities, Mallaro said.

Because CareFlash doesn’t require contracts, VGM encourages providers to give it a try.

“Providers have to be aware of this,” Mallaro said. “In 2010, when this trend really hits, they don’t want to be thinking, ‘Wow, we really should have been involved with that.’”