O&P facilities often look for ways to broaden their product line and grow their business. Although not without risk, one way to do this is by becoming an early adopter of new technology.
It is important not to take a haphazard approach to adopting new technology, Jeffrey M. Brandt, CPO, Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics, told O&P Business News. A holistic, organized approach and meeting with a few of your key employees and the manufacturer to discuss the device or technology, will get the relationship off to a good start.
Brandt has identified four considerations for your practice to make becoming an early adopter of new technology less painful and ultimately, something you can do efficiently, while adding valuable new treatment options for your patients.
Jeffrey M. Brandt
Identify the technology
The first step is to identify what technology is out there and its feasibility for success in your practice. Brandt suggested meeting with staff every quarter to discuss emerging technologies and become more proactive in approaching manufacturers and expressing interest in adopting their technology or devices.
“Develop your relationships with manufacturers with the idea that as they come out with products you could be the supply chain for that new product,” Brandt said.
The technology should be a good fit for your practice. Meeting with manufacturing officials and allowing practitioners and all office staff to test the product internally is essential.
Being an early adopter provides market advantages, but is not without risk.
“There are little hiccups to get over, but if you can get over those barriers quickly, there’s a ton of upside when you’re the only one in the area that provides [that product],” Brandt said. “There are significant branding, company presence, financial advantages and other gains we can make by being an early adopter.”
The quality of a provider’s facilities and quality of the manufacturer is important. “If the manufacturer doesn’t recognize or appreciate the quality of what the provider is offering, it’s probably not a good fit,” Brandt said. “You want things to be collegial but contract-based and formalized so both sides have an appreciation for what the other brings to the table.”
When you have decided on the product and are ready to test it on patients, be clear that they are the first to try this new device, along with all the possible setbacks and risks.
“Tell your patients, ‘it’s a new device, it’s an unknown’ and your patients respect you for being upfront about that, and if the motor blows, the motor blows. You have to consider delays due to technology. You have to be in full disclosure mode. [Tell them] ‘We might have to replace in 3 months if there’s a new software build.’ And your patient will get it.
“If you sit down and say look, there’s this new foot, I’m not saying it’s perfect, we’re doing some trials on it, I’ll have to run tests on it, you’ll have to come in every week…most say ‘bring it on.’ They can’t wait to contribute.”
Brandt said it is important for a business to develop outcome measures and practice good recordkeeping. A practice’s experience and results with the product is critical data that the manufacturer uses to improve the device.
When a practice adopts new technology it is important to take training steps to ensure that everybody hears the information at the same time, in the same context, Brandt said.
“We do it at a practitioners’ meeting; when a new product is released at a practitioner meeting, everybody is present and everybody hears the same presentation.”
Not only does practice staff need to know all about this new technology, but Brandt suggested that one person is the “champion” in charge of the device and the accompanying device updates. That person helps educate other staff and stays on top of device implementation and upgrades.
“You have to have a system set up to disseminate knowledge to practitioners, what types of payers, and you have to train them in the device. Are you going to put them on Medicare patients or on commercial insurance patients? Who’s leading that?
“There is somebody that usually emerges as a leader through the training process as your champion. We rely on them to make sure that the product is implemented properly and put on the proper patients. As different clinicians from different offices see this product, or get patients they could put this product on, they’ll call that product champion, and the product champion will go visit and assist in the evaluation and the fitting.”
Brandt stressed the importance of the company culture and practitioners’ willingness to try something new. If they don’t like or see a need for a new device, or if they don’t think it is cost effective, they will not want to fit it.
“Some other companies might be better served by starting to change their culture first and starting these steps 6 to 9 months from then,” he said.
New adopters need to prepare for the IT demands of a new device, particularly if it includes a mobile app or other web-based software.
“If the product is going to place IT demands on your practice that you can’t meet, that’s a red flag,” Brandt said. A dedicated IT professional is a smart addition to your staff, but a clinician who wears a second hat can also oversee that function.
“It is best if someone from the manufacturer and someone from the provider can link up so all the IT updates, software updates and other changes to the product can be facilitated through those two people. It’s more efficient than having five offices all calling the manufacturer asking them different questions. You can’t be on the phone with the manufacturer troubleshooting IT problems when you’re fitting the device; all you’re doing is chipping away at the patient’s confidence.”
New adopters should anticipate future versions of the components, while their patients should expect to come to the office multiple times for software upgrades.
“Explain to the patient that there may be bugs and technology delays, and that it’s the reality of the situation,” Brandt said.
Finally, practitioners must know the financial implications of adopting new technology. Payment terms for the device must be hammered out with the manufacturer. It could take up to 6 months for Medicare to reimburse for a new device because they will generally first deny the claim, necessitating an appeal.
“There is generally not an L code for new products. Some have them, but they’re mostly billed under ‘miscellaneous.’ Can you fight for the payments early on? How can you pay a manufacturer in 30 days if it will take 120 days to get paid?”
Unfortunately, many new devices are being designed to fit a descriptor, Brandt said.
“Manufacturers are trying to design things to give clinical benefit but they’re also designing them toward the business model. It’s ok to make money, but the flip side is, people are afraid to design what is clinically best because if it doesn’t get an L code, then providers won’t provide it. They don’t want the risk. Being an early adopter means being able to tolerate a fair amount of risk.”
Brandt said his company provides reimbursement information to the manufacturer, so they know how it is being billed and how it is being paid.
These new devices often come with a high cost, so the relationship between provider and manufacturer should be mutually beneficial.
“These manufacturers are willing to be creative. If you’re a facility that can provide value to them and consistency in the release of their product, they are generally pretty flexible and willing to help,” Brandt said. “When you’re going in as an early adopter, you’re going to pay in terms of time, training, IT, identifying the product…you’ve already spent money and resources that are indirect costs, and direct costs, which is buying the product. So you can work out some barter arrangements. If companies really liked how we marketed the product, we say ‘We’ll share some of this branding; can we get a steeper discount on the device in exchange for that?’”
After 3 months, Brandt recommends doing a retrospective chart review and an internal review after 6 months.
“At the next practitioner meeting, we can sit down and go over the results. So when the next product comes along, practitioners are very engaged and they know there will be a review of the product. If it gets a bad review, we’re not going to offer the product anymore.”
The O&P facility can then share their results with the manufacturer, Brandt said. It can from 3 months to 9 months between the time a facility identifies and decides to try a new product, and then adopts the device into practice, Brandt said. — by Carey Cowles
Disclosure: Brandt has no relevant financial disclosures.