LAS VEGAS — Growth has become a challenge in the O&P industry, but a successful O&P business is still possible with the right strategies, according to speakers at the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association National Assembly.
As noted by Paul R. Gudonis, MBA, CEO of Myomo Inc., O&P business owners face a number of challenges leading to reimbursement pressures and cash flow issues. Businesses are consolidating or closing altogether, and “industry revenues are pretty flat.” But, Gudonis said, O&P business owners still can work to generate growth by creating and following a strategy.
Incorporate new strategies
O&P business owners should implement a growth strategy to stay focused and consistent. The four growth strategies recommended by Gudonis include: serving existing customers with existing products in a proactive manner; bringing current products and services to new customers; bringing new products and services to existing customers; and developing a new set of products and services for new customers.
Move past the patient
O&P business owners serve three groups of customers or “three Ps,” according to Mark Ford, president of The OPIE Choice Network: patients, physicians and payers. Patients are part of the foundation for growing a business, Ford said, but “the other two Ps [physicians and payers] have to become part of the equation.”
Image: Alexander A, O&P Business News
Ford said many O&P business owners know to focus their marketing efforts on patients, but tend to neglect the other “two Ps.” Physicians will help provide referrals, and payers are making sure services are funded.
“The reality is that the payer is the one who is going to cut the check,” Ford said. “It is a challenge, I understand, for clinicians to get outside of the space that they are most comfortable in, and that is dealing with the patient. But the reality is that if you do not, you are going to struggle.”
Broadening the focus of an O&P business to include more interaction with physicians and payers is not a switch that can be flipped; rather, it is a process.
Ford said the best approach for building relationships with physicians and payers is by using hard data. If a practitioner has data to back up his or her claims about services provided, it will help “to change the discussion.”
He added, “It is about the data … not just on a single patient, but on the patient population that you are serving.”
Ford’s recommendation for those just beginning to collect data is the distribution of a patient satisfaction survey. This will allow O&P business owners to compare themselves with others and find the areas that need improvement.
“You need to take that information and start a discussion with your referral sources, with your payers and even with your patients,” Ford said. “Use your patient satisfaction data to drive the discussion with the patient, with the physician and with the payer.”
It is easy to say, “I do good work,” he noted, but a patient satisfaction provides tangible proof to that effect. This information also can be integrated into company marketing materials. Each patient who visits is an opportunity to provide education.
Mining data can be overwhelming, Ford said, so consistency is important.
“Decide what your most important data metrics are [and] talk to your physicians about what they are most concerned about,” he said. Physicians likely will want to know about things like readmissions, follow-up protocol and frequency of visits – this will aid them in working on reimbursements with CMS. Providing data sets an O&P provider apart from the rest of the industry.”
“Start to change the discussion,” Ford said. “The challenge in this industry is that we want to be treated as providers, not suppliers … But to do that, you have to start to talk like the rest of the health care world talks. And the rest of the health care world talks about data. What you are doing with your patients that you can quantify, that is the critical piece.”
Expand through referrals
Grant Rutledge, MBA, president of BCP Group, which owns independently branded O&P clinics in four states, admits up front that obtaining new referrals can be tough.
“You are in most instances taking market share from a competitor,” he pointed out. “They are not going to give it up easily.”
But an O&P business’ greatest opportunities for growth depend on the strength of the practice, not on what the competition is offering.
“It takes time. You have to have a plan,” he said. “It is not a project with a beginning and an end; it is an ongoing process.”
To that end, Rutledge suggested involving clinic staff in a regularly weekly or monthly team meeting to plan upcoming communication to current and potential referral sources. Another suggestion was to look for opportunities to educate referral sources about new product offerings, which provide a reason to keep up regular communication with current referral sources or get in front of referral sources who may be sending patients to a competitor.
New offerings for existing patients
Finding new products or services to keep patients coming back can be critical to the growth of an O&P business, according to Pam Lupo, CO. O&P practitioners cannot be shy about their credentials when facing competition from OTS providers.
“We are the specialists, and we need to remember that,” she said.
Lupo recommends business owners find their niche and focus their marketing efforts on that specialty area, whether that be pediatric O&P, scoliosis, orthopedics or something else that sets the business apart.
“How are you going to develop a niche area that you can go out and market, and where you will be above your competition and have opportunities for them to seek you out as a resource?” she said. “If you have an opportunity to hire a specialist …. They are also a great resource for other practitioners to come in, do assessments and be a consultant. If you do not have that opportunity, use your reps from the different manufacturers. They are more than happy to come in and evaluate a patient with you at any time.”
Lupo said O&P professionals also can market themselves to hospitals and physicians as educational resources on documentation requirements.
Many hospitals have new guidelines and do not permit manufacturers or providers to offer educational programs, according to Lupo.
“Not only are we specialists in clinical care, but we also are specialists in documentation,” Lupo added. “If you can save them time, money and energy and help the patients get what they need … that might get you into a few doors.”
Lupo said staff need to be regularly updated on changes in benefits so that they can identify new products that would benefit patients.
New offerings for new patients
It is easy for an O&P professional to become excited about marketing a new product after returning from an exhibition or a trade show, according to Jonathan Naft, CPO, but that is not enough anymore. Naft challenged O&P business owners to examine their products and services and promote marketing and education year-round.
“With new products and new patients, ask yourself, are you doing the same thing that you were doing last year?” he said.
A good way to get started is by examining the O&P practice’s strengths and weaknesses. Strengths can be built upon in order to gain new audiences. Try a new product in an old space – such as focusing on prostheses for athletes – or a new product in a new space – such as a cranial helmet for children.
Possibly the most important part of marketing one’s O&P business is consistency, Naft noted.
“It should not be hit-or-miss, it should be planned. It should be well documented,” he said.
Naft added that stagnancy is a great inhibitor of growth.
“If you are not doing anything new, you are really not going to grow,” he said. — by Amanda Alexander
For More Information:
Ford M. Symposium: Growing your O&P practice revenue in a no-growth environment. Presented at: American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association National Assembly; Sept. 4-7, 2014; Las Vegas.
Disclosures: Gudonis, Ford, Rutledge, Lupo and Naft have no relevant financial disclosures.