Create an atmosphere for O&P, soft goods

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Orthotics and prosthetics, along with soft goods like compression hosiery, post-mastectomy forms and other garments, can be a strong retail product category if presented correctly. An essential element of this business, says HME retail specialist Jack Evans, is creating an atmosphere of tranquility, compassion and wellness.

"The successful operations I have seen go well beyond product sales," said Evans, president of Malibu, Calif.-based Global Media Marketing. "They don't just show products, they create a nurturing environment, providing yoga, massage, fountains, a meditation room, hair salon and serve coffee and tea. They provide a holistic approach to healing."

Wendy Miller, director of facility accreditation for Owings Mills, MD-based Board of Certification/Accreditation International agrees that sensitivity is critical for providers in the women's health category.

"While the number and types of products involved in treatment and recovery have expanded to meet the full spectrum of patient needs, the true strength of the business is in the level of service provided by these boutiques," she said. "A caring and compassionate staff combined with a well-equipped facility will meet the unique needs of women in this population."

Evans recommends hosting a survivorship support group to help patients develop their own "survivorship" plans.

"A new area of research is surfacing in breast cancer treatment that focuses on patients who survive the mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and hormone treatments and now must face long-term health issues alone with no support," he said. "A new study documented that women are facing social and emotional issues, as well as long-term side effects such as heart damage, nerve damage, osteoporosis and secondary cancers. These support groups focus on each person's past tests and treatments, side effects to expect, use of estrogen, lifestyle changes to make, and where to find follow-up care."

'Research is key'

Market analysts agree that the O&P business is growing, driven by the increasing needs associated with an aging baby boomer population, high obesity rates, rising diabetes cases, and returning war veterans. Miller says the best O&P providers she has seen have close ties with referral sources and offer a product and service mix specifically suited for their patient population.

"Research is key," she said. "By attending O&P industry trade shows, such as the AOPA National Assembly or state-level O&P association events, or talking to certified or licensed O&P professionals in the disciplines of interest, HME providers can set themselves up for success."

Miller also recommends that providers conduct a thorough review of CMS regulations, particularly those related to the medical equipment they want to furnish.

"Accrediting organizations are valuable resources for understanding and interpreting these regulations," she said. "They might also want to identify educational requirements necessary for delivering O&P services."

A market scan is another valuable form of research to assess the need for O&P services in a particular area, Miller said. It is also helpful to evaluate current retail space, she said, "to be sure there is adequate room for a waiting area, patient evaluation rooms, or laboratory space."

Promoting hosiery

The same external factors fueling the overall O&P market are all positives for compression hosiery, says Ginny Perez, market manager for Charlotte, N.C.-based BSN Medical. And while the product category retains some Medicare coverage, the number of reimbursable items has dropped, making it a desirable retail category, she said.

"In the past, a third party payer might have reimbursed four pairs of gradient compression leg wear annually, where now it might only cover two pairs," Perez said. "So the cash sales potential for gradient compression is strong. Patients who visit a DME provider in need of respiratory therapy or mobility aids may end up selecting a pair of compression knee highs to relieve their tired, aching legs."

Citing a study by Woodbridge, Va.-based Information Resources Inc., which reports a 21% increase in retail sales of compression hosiery in 2011, Perez said she believes that data signals a sustained growth trend for the market going forward. Even so, for providers to capitalize on this sales potential, they must demonstrate the hallmarks of a solid retail operation, she said, including a highly visible location, well-stocked showroom with attractively displayed merchandise, convenient hours, competitive pricing and exceptional customer service.

"An HME provider would do well to align with strong companies whose products are leaders in their industry," Perez said. "Working with the right manufacturers' representatives, the HME provider can be supported with a variety of programs to help grow the business through customer acquisition and retention."