Here's a big idea: Let's redefine and enlarge the role HME plays in the continuum of care

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11/20/2009

I had an interesting talk with Steve Serra last week. Steve is the vice president of Henry Ford Health Products, the $40 million HME arm of the giant ($4 billion) Henry Ford Health System.

Serra has joined forces with a research company and embarked on a project to redefine and enlarge the role HME providers play in the healthcare continuum. That’s a must, he says, because as reimbursement dwindles, if the industry doesn’t change its value proposition, providers will end up driving around dropping off low-cost products. That doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

The industry’s current message—its value proposition—that homecare is cost effective and patient preferred “misses the point,” Serra says.

I think he's on to something.  After all, the current mantra hasn't stemmed the tide of reimbursement cuts, has it? I think we've got to add some muscle to it, or maybe throw it out all together and come up with something that resonates with more people.

According to Serra, here's HME's real value proposition: “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."

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This critical role in the continuum of care is a key point because if competitive bidding runs its course and the number of HMEs declines precipitously, the impact on the continuum of care—the patient and healthcare system—will be dramatic.

“There will be enough companies that want to take care of the hospitals,” Serra said. “The real losers are going to be the nursing homes that need to move people out. The emergency rooms that don't want people in the fist place. The PT department that needs a patient taken care of. And so on and so on and so on.”

So the question is: What will happen to these patients if competitive bidding and other reimbursement cuts significantly decrease the number of HME providers? How will patients go home when they are ready to go home? And if they can’t go home in a timely fashion, what will the impact be on the continuum of care and healthcare costs.

Those are questions that the HME industry should ask CMS bureaucrats and DC lawmakers.

— Mike Moran

PS
We’ll have more on Serra’s research in the future, but check this out.

Serra contends that to prevent competitive bidding from transforming HME providers into distributors of low cost products, the industry must create a role for providers that begins earlier in the patient’s disease state. Not, for example, four years after the patient’s been diagnosed with COPD and needs oxygen.

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This new role would be multidimensional, combining retail, products, clinical services and education.

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To help do define this new role, Serra’s working with a research firm and has begun searching for a physician in the Henry Ford Health System to spearhead the effort and give it credibility.

“We’re approaching this as a academic project,” Serra said. “We’re just in the beginning of interviewing physicians. We’ve been out interviewing policy stakeholders in Michigan, like the Michigan Hospital Association. (We’ve) met with the president of a local university that has a medical school. We’re trying to define what (the new HME) space is.”

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If you ask me, that is pretty exciting stuff.