When a patient suffers from incontinence, he or she is really suffering from two things; the negative impact that their physical condition is having on their lives, and the frustration and embarrassment they feel from an emotional standpoint. Our youth obsessed popular culture has done an excellent job of stigmatizing and mocking the condition of incontinence to the point that people with the condition don’t want to talk about it — at all.
Which is surprising from a statistical standpoint, because the population of American incontinence sufferers is large. At least 25 million adult Americans suffer from some form of urinary incontinence, according to the National Association for Continence. Think about that: more than 12 percent of the U.S. population has some form of incontinence.
Moreover, women comprise 75 percent of that population. A massive segment of the U.S. population has a medical condition that they find too embarrassing to discuss.
If there was ever a moment where HME providers can establish their businesses as safe sources for effective products that are backed by knowledgeable service, and where patients can safely review and discuss those solutions, then they will create client relationships that can last a lifetime. Here are some ways to make that happen:
PROVIDE COMPLETE SOLUTIONS
A provider must provide a full range of solutions so that they can become a one-stop shop. Adult diapers, catheters, lubricants, cleaning products, and underpads for chairs and mattresses are key items. And there is a large variety of offerings within those categories to suit individual needs.
For instance, a men’s catheter that works for one patient might not work for another, either due to style, material, physiology, comfort, size, or some other factor. (Again, we are talking about very personal solutions.)
Make sure you stock enough items to cover all your patients’ needs. Regularly monitor your vendors to know the new options available, as the field of incontinence is constantly evolving.
OFFER COMMUNITY OUTREACH
A big problem for many incontinence patients is a complete lack of awareness regarding their condition. Many incontinence patients go for long periods of time without being diagnosed. The average wait time between symptoms and getting a diagnosis for incontinence is over six years. Moreover, those patients are likely to address their conditions on their own, randomly buying various products and trying them out in hope of finding an viable solution.
This all comes from a lack of awareness that your business can easily fix. Engage in various types of community outreach to key communities that are likely to suffer from incontinence. While most incontinence sufferers aren’t going to line up for a free seminar, public service awareness campaigns using a mix of traditional and new media are a great way to reach those people to let them know that there is a helpful, discrete service provider offering solutions to their problems.
EDUCATE YOUR REFERRALS
While incontinence is both a funded and a retail business, your referring physicians and other referral sources can drive a solid amount of business to a door. The key is to educate them in much the same way you educate your patients. Many of your referral sources are not up-to-date on what’s available.
This is your opportunity to set up an inservice or some other educational event in order demonstrate the range of solutions you offer, and establish yourself as an expert resource to whom they can direct their patients. Given that your referring physicians are in need of various treatments for their incontinence patients, but might not be aware of all the options available, they will appreciate having a product expert with whom they can collaborate in order to develop a complete solution for each of their patients.
OFFER DISCRETION, PRIVACY AND DIGNITY
Once incontinence clients are in your showroom, you need to ensure that you have the right “infrastructure” to properly care for them. Remember that many incontinence sufferers feel embarrassed and even stigmatized by their situation, so you want to provide service that can properly respond to that.
Also, dedicate a completely enclosed, private are with toilet and washbasin that can let them not only discuss solutions, but also try them.
That discretion doesn’t just extend to consultation. If you ship or deliver incontinence items, consider packaging them in anonymous wrappings or boxes.
If patients come to purchasing items from your store, consider providing a private way they can pick up larger incontinence items, such as packages of diapers, in a discrete, careful fashion. A simply way to offer this is by providing over-the-phone or online orders and then allowing curb-side or backdoor pickup in back of the store.
FORM A TEAM OF RESPECTFUL PROS
Ensure that the staff members that will be working with those patients are educated when it comes to incontinence, and have a “bedside manner” that combines professionalism, maturity, respect and discretion, so that patients feel free to discuss their condition.
You must dedicate well-trained, professional staff members to the task of working with incontinence patients. It’s very difficult for patients to share all this private information with a recent high school grad, for example.
Dedicating knowledgeable staff to the task might also give the patient treatment ideas to discuss with his or her physician. So, the team members that a pharmacy dedicates to working with incontinence patients should also have some kind of training in the normal urinary tract and bowel function, and what an abnormal one is.
In terms of specific training, start by looking at what your state HME association, pharmaceutical society or other trade associations might have to offer in the way of seminars addressing incontinence. Or you could have a registered nurse come in and site down with the staff to review basic concepts and treatment steps for incontinence.
WORK WITH CAREGIVERS
When a client comes into your store seeking incontinence solutions, there is a good possibility that person might not be the patient. At times, you will deal with family members, spouses, significant others, caregivers and other people who are working as a proxy for a patient.
This is understandable, but it does create some degree of difficulty, because the go-between is not going to be able to answer questions with the same level of specificity that a patient can.
Ask some questions to help you identify if a person is an intermediary, and if so, encourage them to bring the patient in for a private consultation. Show them the various resources you have in place, and provide a business care for the staffer with whom the patient would normally consult.
Better yet, provide a pamphlet that describes the lengths your business goes to in order to preserve the confidentiality, privacy and dignity of the patient while creating a space that fosters the kind of open dialog that will result in the patient getting the right solution.
This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy April 2022 issue of HME Business.