Weeks: Pump up revenues

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Industry consultant Wallace Weeks has a plan for providers to whip revenues into shape: Rent fitness equipment.

Weeks, founder and president of Melbourne, Fla.-based Weeks Group, has suggested to providers that they rent out equipment like treadmills and stationary bikes as a way to diversify income sources in the wake of more Medicare reimbursement cuts.

“Providers who rent hospital beds, oxygen concentrators and wheelchairs could easily add fitness equipment to that lineup,” he said. “They’ll get the referral the same way; they’re just going to collect differently.”

While Weeks doesn’t know of any providers who currently rent out fitness equipment, he says the need is out there. Going to the gym, particularly in the winter, can be a challenge for seniors, he said.

“Almost daily somebody slips on the ice and has some recovery to deal with,” he said. “We’re sending heart patients, who need to recover on treadmills, to the gym and letting them slip on the way. Why not let them have a treadmill in the house?”

Provider Bryan Schultz has fielded requests for rental fitness equipment here and there, but he hasn’t seen a major need for the service. Schultz refers customers to the local sporting goods store.

“Fitness equipment is not cheap,” said Schultz, owner of Las Vegas-based Desert Medical Equipment. “You would have to have some decent capital to get into it.”

Provider Jeff Friedman agrees. In theory, renting fitness equipment sounds like a good idea, but he’s not convinced that consumers will pay for the equipment.

“I have a hard time selling a scooter that has more than the basic services on it because people don’t want to pay out of pocket in my area,” said Friedman, owner of New Orleans-based Total Health Solutions.     So while providers say Weeks has come up with a good idea, they are not rushing out to buy dozens of treadmills. Weeks says they shouldn’t.

“I would stick my toe in the water,” he said. “If all else fails, you’ve got one treadmill and healthier employees.”