Right Place at the Right Time: Self-Service When Your Customers Need it Most

Published in Member Communities on September 29, 2023

ight Place at the Right Time: Self-Service When Your Customers Need it MostBy Lindy Tentinger, President, Forbin

Those who have built their careers in the home medical equipment industry understand that there are significant differences between their businesses and those of their luxury-goods-offering counterparts. As medical equipment moves from manufacturers through warehouses and retailers to end users, there are several points of friction those outside HME are free to ignore.

Guiding the Patient

Helping a patient understand the process of getting their equipment is important. Sleep suppliers must handle and communicate how to use the equipment, what compliance means, which supplies and accessories go together, what mask and cushions fit best, what a resupply schedule is, and how to get a patient or caregiver to remember everything that was communicated when future needs arrive. That’s a steep order.

On top of initial setup equipment and accessories, there are times when patients need items outside of their resupply schedule.

Right Place at the Right Time

You want to be there for your customers in their time of need, but for that to happen, they must be aware of how you can help them. Knowing you’re their one-stop shop—a place they can rely on for timely shipping and competitive prices—makes a big difference.

A regular broadcast to your patients consistently reminds them where to turn for self-service and easy shopping. After they make their purchase, you want them to know they can contact you for any additional assistance or questions they may have.

Self-Service E-Commerce Market Opportunity

The population exists for this self-service market; there is no doubt. As we all know, this market is growing. We also know that many sleep apnea cases today go undiagnosed. According to a market research report by Grand View Research, the global sleep apnea devices market size was valued at $4.2 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.2% from 2023 to 2030. CPAP devices and supplies, as significant components of this market, are expected to benefit from this projected growth.

CAGR

The general shift toward online shopping also shows no signs of slowing down. In 2021, retail e commerce sales amounted to approximately $5.2 trillion worldwide, according to a report published in Statista. The report states this figure is forecast to grow by 56% over the next few years, reaching about $8.1 trillion by 2026. Healthcare products, including CPAP supplies, are part of this robust growth.

Shift Toward Online Shopping

In other words, a growing number of patients are turning to online platforms for their health needs, including CPAP supplies.

What Customers Can’t Get from Amazon

Amazon and similar platforms have undoubtedly revolutionized the retail landscape, but they don’t surpass the expertise, education, and guidance of industry-specific providers when it comes to healthcare and medical equipment. Shopping for CPAP machines and accessories can be difficult, discerning which items are covered by insurance and resupply, which items need a prescription, and which supplies and accessories will work with their particular machine and mask.

HME professionals are trained to understand the specific needs and requirements of their customers. They can provide personalized advice and recommendations that consider the patient’s medical condition, lifestyle, and home environment. This level of individual attention and care is something that an algorithm on a broad-spectrum e-commerce platform simply can’t replicate.

HME professionals can provide personalized advice and recommendations.

Sleep providers have an in-depth knowledge of CPAP equipment and related products. They can explain the function and use of equipment in detail, demonstrate how to use it correctly, and answer any questions customers may have. This is crucial when it comes to sleep apnea patients, where improper use can lead to further health complications.

Sleep providers

The extensive variety of products offered on giant e-commerce retail sites can be overwhelming and confusing, particularly for individuals who are unfamiliar with CPAP equipment, accessories, and supplies. HME providers, on the other hand, curate a selection of products tailored to their customers’ needs. They can guide customers to the best products for their specific situation and machine, saving them the trouble of sifting through countless options and potentially making a misinformed choice.

While Amazon may offer customer reviews and basic product information, it lacks the expert oversight and guidance that HME providers offer. It is clear reading through some of the Amazon reviews on CPAP accessories and supplies that some customers were unsure what products to purchase and made their best guess—sometimes right, and other times not.

Outperform

Service After the Sale

HME providers significantly outperform Amazon in post-purchase service by often providing installation support, maintenance, and repair services for their products. If a piece of medical equipment breaks down or malfunctions, HME providers are equipped to address the problem promptly and professionally. This kind of immediate, reliable service is indispensable for customers who rely on their CPAP machine for daily living.

Service after the sale

Many HME providers go beyond selling equipment; they also help patients navigate the often complex world of insurance. They can advise on coverage, assist with claims, and even advocate for patients when necessary. Payers can vary dramatically in the coverage they offer. Even different policies with the same insurance company are likely to diverge. State guidelines attempt to offer some standardization, but the sheer number of variables can be difficult to understand, even with a guide.

Long-term relationships

Lastly, HME providers are invested in long-term relationships with their customers. Unlike Amazon, where transactions are quick and impersonal, HME providers build lasting relationships based on trust and ongoing service. This connection can offer peace of mind and consistency for customers who require long-term use of equipment.

The above advantages need to be broadcast to your customers in simple, scannable formats over and over again. If you have a self-service, e-commerce channel, the patient should be directly told about the service, then reminded and shown again, and again… and again. That might sound dramatic, but it takes many times and channels for a simple message to get across in today’s noisy marketplace. Making the message simple is best, as long and complex means risking the message will never get across.

Tuning in to HMECommerce

We know that e-commerce is not an easy venture. Unfortunately, it is not the Field of Dreams where if you build it, they will come. VGM Fulfillment, Brightree, and VGM Forbin recently partnered to develop a new solution for sleep suppliers (and beyond, eventually). HMECommerce is a self-service e-commerce channel with features that make it easy to turn on and run for your business with minimal resources.

HMECommerce CPAP

In its initial phase, HMECommerce offers your patients a self-service channel for ordering CPAP supplies and accessories when they run into one of the many scenarios that take him or her out of the resupply schedule. The platform is connected to Brightree Business Management Software (BMS), Brightree DX for digital customer communication, and VGM Fulfillment for hands-off inventory and product distribution straight to your patients’ doorsteps, or camper steps, or whatever steps they need their items delivered to.

HMECommerce

VGM Forbin has marketing and customer communication support teams with expertise in the sleep and HME market. They help get your simple message across to customers with reminders on where to go as soon as they need your products and services. The roadmap for HMECommerce includes resupply, insurance clearinghouse integration for easy customer check out using their specific insurance, as well as expansion into other chronic conditions needing a self-service e-commerce model for recurrent supplies, such as diabetes and incontinence.

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VGM Playbook Business Solutions to Optimize Success in DMEPOSThis article was originally featured in the VGM Playbook: Business Solutions to Optimize Success in DMEPOS. To read the full article and more like this, download your copy of the playbook today


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