Member Josh Shields, CEO of BetaMed, Discusses Business Success in a Competitive Bidding Environment

Posted on in Growth Strategies

By: Lalaina Rabary, VGM & Associates

For BetaMed, the rural rollout of competitive bidding came fierce, knocking mobility equipment reimbursement down 27 percent. The Bryant, Texas-based HME has since had to shift its operations and make some changes, but remains determined to grow despite the cuts.

In an interview with Josh Fields, chief executive officer of BetaMed, Josh opens up about the challenges his company faces and the solutions it has set in motion to thrive. Read about how he found opportunity turning turbulent times.

LR: How long have you been in the HME industry?

JF: I have been with BetaMed for two years, but the store has been in operation since 2002. Prior to that, I worked as the finance director for a large, non-profit, health delivery system in central Texas. It was a multi-practice physician group.

LR: How have the past two years been?

JF: Challenging, but I’m seeing there’s a lot of opportunity to service this market. We’re just figuring out ways to do it differently and more efficiently.

LR: How has the rural rollout of competitive bidding impacted your business?

JF: We’re primarily a mobility equipment provider, so rates for power wheelchairs dropped by 27 percent. The impact when you’re a small, rural outfit is significant and requires out-of-the box thinking.

LR: What has your business done as a response to rural rollout?

JF: We’ve done things that most providers are doing, primarily working to be more efficient. What may have been delivered the same day in the past, now requires batching. We’re not delivering single items, because it’s often a 60- to 100-mile roundtrip. We are also having patients visit us more. If they went to see their doctor and physical therapist, why can’t the see us also?

LR: How have people reacted when you’ve asked them to come into the store to pick up their equipment?

JF: Many people, who in the past had their equipment delivered, have no problem picking it up now. Often times they come with someone else – a spouse, sibling, or child. The add-on benefit is that another person comes to our store to look at other great items we have.

People who have been waiting for their equipment for a while are excited when we tell them the good news that their equipment is approved and they’re welcome to pick it up anytime. Of course, we are cognizant and willing to work with someone if they cannot get to us. We are not asking people who are (being) discharging from the hospital to pick up their equipment. We deliver it to them, because we don’t want to risk damaging the relationship with a discharge planner. We start with the assumption that the patient is going to pick up their equipment and go from there. 

LR: What else have you done since January to improve your business?

JF: We’ve spent a lot of time making sure employees are empowered and focused on helping patients solve problems versus being a dispenser of equipment.

For example, if a patient has steps to their front porch or threshold, our employee may say,

“It’s going to be difficult for you to get over your threshold. We have a threshold ramp that makes it much easier to transition.” This helps improve the patient’s quality of life and solves a problem!

This approach is far from that of a “pushy salesperson.” It’s simply educating patients about solutions to the challenges they face in a friendly, non-pushy manner. We must keep in mind that a vast majority of patients aren’t coming to see us because they want equipment; they need it for daily life. Anything we can do to help them, we should be willing to do.

LR: What advice do you have for other HMEs in today’s business environment?

JF: All you can do is stay focused on the service that you’re providing to the people who need it. It’s certainly not their fault that Medicare has changed the rules. Educate them that the policy impacting their care is not unique to your company and are changes Medicare has implemented. Tell them that unless they share their dissatisfaction to their (congressional) representatives, the challenges and problems in their lives won’t change. We’ve got to make our patients proactive in helping us fix this situation.

Also, prompt your patients to think about how a piece of equipment is going to be used in their everyday life, and offer retail products that can make their use of that equipment even better.

LR: How have you expanded your marketing efforts?

JF: This weekend we exhibited at an event that our business had never been to before. The people to my right were selling sheets, the booth across from me was selling garment backs, and a jeweler was next to her. 

The items we took with us were our true retail offerings: pain relief options, Vionic shoes, Frozenpeaz and more. The best part was that none of my competitors were there. We ended up selling enough products to pay for us being there and received great exposure! Connections were made with people who previously didn’t know who we were.

We are sponsoring a college summer league baseball team, and they will be having an evening called “Bellies in the Ball Park.” As a title sponsor, we will be able to have a booth at the event and connect with expectant mothers. Many are unaware that insurance covers breast pumps. This is a new way we are raising awareness about that!

Finally, we are hoping to partner with our local United Way in their initiative to provide children with books. When a new mother leaves the hospital and receives a book for their child, we would like to give them a flyer about our store with the products we have for mom and baby. We will include a coupon, too!

LR: What marketing advice would you give to other HMEs?

JF: You have to look to market in ways that are different than what you’ve done in the past. We have TV commercials, print advertisements and will be airing radio spots in the near future. This is very different than marketing to referral sources. You have to have different game plans to reach different audiences.

LR: Do you have any final thoughts?

JF: The challenge we face is not the selling of the products as much as it as getting people to come in the door. Rob (Baumhover) and Maria (Markusen) of VGM Retail have offered us wonderful support and helped us choose great products. Now it’s up to us to shift people’s thinking to view us as a retail store and continue to create customers of our patients.