Although the post-mastectomy profession is noble, it is daunting to
maintain this type of business, Andrea Barbera, CFM, care manager at Anita
International Corporation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., explained. Post-mastectomy
professionals should be prepared to face the challenges that come with a
questionable economy, lingering reimbursement claims and increased competition
from non-medical sources.
The line between post-mastectomy fitters and other retail stores —
though often blurry — separates those trained in the special needs of
women who have survived cancer from those with lingerie sales experience. In
addition, while sales associates in retail stores do not have to struggle with
reimbursement issues and can be immediately compensated for their time and
products, they also must deal with the lack of cash business in a soft economy;
post-mastectomy fitters, on the other hand, retain the promise of some level of
Barbera warned against over-emphasizing reimbursements to patients,
“You anesthetize your own consumer to think that, ‘If I
can’t get it reimbursed, I don’t want it,’” she said.
The key is to stand strong as a business person and provide the best
service and products.
“We have many avenues of specialty that they cannot find
elsewhere,” she said. “So there’s a challenge, but there’s
also the sun.”
Barbera stressed the need for a level of excitement in the store, and
said that it is the responsibility of the store’s ownership and
management. Likewise, negative energy and lethargy also originate from the
owner and quickly filters out to staff members.
The atmosphere inside the business should be warm, comforting and
natural, invoking the image of a weekend shopping trip with girlfriends. This
positive environment separates the confident experience from the depressing.
This does not apply to the person Barbera called the malcontent.
“Every store has someone you can never satisfy,” she said.
“They’re on the hunt, and that has a lot to do with their own
Instead, business owners should concentrate their efforts on the average
person who is looking for a good personal experience. Just as important as
creating that experience is the ability to determine the patient’s level
of satisfaction. Answers to questions like “Are you pleased with how you
were treated in the store?” and “Have we shown you different types of
products?” help business owners gauge areas that might be lacking in both
attitude and inventory. Without identifying the factors involved in that level
of satisfaction, business owners will be unable to determine the need.
“A door opens — that means somebody came in for something. You
have to know what the need is,” she said. “If, more often, they walk
out without something, then what is it that you don’t have?”
For this reason, communication between the two entities — fitter
and patient — is an integral tool in maintaining the delicate balance
between health care necessity and lingerie experience. The women seeking
post-mastectomy services often require education about the process to accompany
their need for product assistance. Perhaps the most important factor involved
in this conversation, however, is the patient’s comfort level.
These patients have beat cancer, and they are ready to return to the
world feeling like strong, confident women. Most of them do not wish to enter
that world wearing their grandmother’s undergarments, Barbera said.
“Most women … there’s vanity to all of us, and when they
see how they look and feel, the price becomes secondary,” she said.
Barbera said she is open to these challenges.
“I believe this is an exciting time,” she said. “This
industry is not going away. If you look at the stats, [they show] that there
are 2.5-plus million women over the last 10 years living with breast cancer.
There are way over 200,000 new diagnoses every year.”
The relationship between a woman and her post-mastectomy fitter can last
for the rest of her life, Barbera told O&P Business News.
As such, fitters and business owners must be creative to determine what
that woman wants and also what she needs, and how to keep her happy with the
products and level of service she receives.
For those post-mastectomy fitters who do not close up their shops
because of the faltering economy or reimbursement woes, the potential remains
for thriving business.
“The sun comes out tomorrow. This is a time when people are looking
to be able to go to the stores that are supplying them with their needs,”
She does hope, however, to tip the scales back to a preference for
personalized, hands-on service.
“There’s a lot of website shopping. We need to bring that big
business back into the brick and mortar,” she said. — by Stephanie
Andrea Barbera’s [insight into] the relationship between a
mastectomy fitter and her customer offer interesting food for thought. After a
diagnosis of breast cancer followed by surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, a
woman’s self esteem is challenged, withered down and her emotional
stability is in jeopardy. For this woman, finding a place of respite where she
can heal her damaged self-esteem is of utmost importance. A warm, caring
mastectomy fitter who can help her choose the right products so that she is
comfortable will change her life. A diverse selection of products from
immediate post-mastectomy through recovery and beyond will keep her coming back
to the same environment. Offering garments that are fashionable, sexy and
well-fitting will keep her as a customer forever.
Barbera notes that we live in a time where reimbursement and all its
regulations require quite a challenge. Although there are many on-line
businesses — mine included — it is important that women have a place
to go to be fitted and a place where they can shop for items that will become
an integral part of their feeling whole.
— Barbara Zarrell, RN
officer, The Woman’s Personal Health