What's in a name?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Would you rather be a gravedigger or a funeral director? What about a used car salesman or a seller of certified pre-owned vehicles? Why would the personnel department change its name to the human resources department? All these titles have something in common; they evoke a response, a judgment of the value of these positions. It is about perception.

Let's apply this to our industry. When someone asks you what you do for a living, what is your response? I sell home medical equipment? I deal in bent metal? I am in the wheelchair business? We are all guilty of doing this, but using these terms misses the value these products and services bring to the lives of the people who use them. We need to change the perception that our industry deals equipment to stressing the reality that we provide millions of people with products that let them enjoy life, from the simple cane or commode to highly sophisticated devices, such as a custom power wheelchair with powered seating or a HomeFill oxygen transfilling unit. Whether flying on an airplane with portable oxygen therapy or spending time in the comfort of home, we're far more than concentrators and bent metal.

First things first, we need to get out of the box business. We don't sell shower chairs; we assist with bath safety. We don't sell wheelchairs; we provide mobility. We don't sell lifts and slings; we provide safe patient handling. This might seem a minor word change, but the meaning, the takeaway, is drastically different. Every one of us has someone in our lives whose life is made better because of homecare products. Many of us see its impact every day. At Invacare, we like to stress that home care is the trifecta of health care: It is patient-preferred, results in better outcomes, and is more cost-effective. Why is it then that home care is not discussed in these terms?

This change in verbiage is a small first step, but one that can and should extend into all facets of our businesses, externally through marketing and sales, and internally as a part of the fabric of our companies. At Invacare, we see this as the promise and purpose of our brand and have defined it as, "we make life's experiences possible." It is just as applicable at the provider level. If you see yourself as a provider of solutions and this reflects internally and externally, your value will increase accordingly. The words we use to describe ourselves today are minimizing our value. When someone needs a wheelchair, it's not simply a piece of bent metal. It's the means by which that person will live their life. It's the mobility they need to go to their grandson's soccer game or make a living at a job they love.

The past few years have not been easy for the home medical equipment industry. The government continues to see little value in the services we offer, as reflected in competitive bidding, reimbursement cuts and healthcare legislation. This results in pricing pressures and makes it more difficult for us to do our real job of helping patients live their fullest lives. Regardless of where discussions on these topics will go, the need to show the value of our industry remains. The promise of home care cannot be one of products and services alone. Our industry promise is very aligned with Invacare's brand promise and purpose of making life's experiences possible, and that is how we have to get our elected and administrative government officials to view us.

As an industry, we're notoriously our own worst enemy. We describe ourselves in ways that minimize our value and don't accurately describe the work we do. We sell products as if the services surrounding them, like delivery, consultation and proper fit, are inherent and included. The government sees us as selling a concentrator to a patient, not as a vital role in their oxygen therapy. It's no wonder we can't get the respect we deserve; that respect must start with how we treat ourselves. We need to change the perception that our industry deals equipment to stressing the reality that we provide millions of people with products that let them experience life.

The homecare industry is in the business of providing solutions, not simply products. We wish we had focused more on the industry's brand promise years ago. It is high time that we speak of ourselves as we want to be seen and in terms that accurately describe this industry and the benefits we bring to patients. Let's raise the bar and right the perception. There's an old saying that if you don't toot your own horn, someone will use it as a spittoon. We've let a few bad apples tarnish our reputation for too long. It's time to use that horn and connect our industry to the true value that it deserves.

Mal Mixon is chairman of the board at Invacare. Lou Slangen is senior vice president, corporate marketing, and chief product officer.



That's not a fair comparison a gravedigger or a funeral director and also the other one a used car salesman or a seller of certified pre-owned vehicles, of course everyone would love to be a leg warmers director or a seller of pre-owned vehicles but the point is different though.