Ryan Bullock headshot
Ryan Bullock

In large part due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 has brought about colossal change to global commerce and especially to healthcare. This year has changed the way the entire industry sees things and how it perceives value, so if their partners are to survive in the post-COVID-19 landscape, they must look for even more ways to add value.

Senior living communities and other long-term care facilities have been among the most challenged during the pandemic, having their capabilities, capacity and financial sustainability tested by tumultuous conditions. It often is difficult to improve all three of those things at the same time, but providers already are looking for ways to do so, and one of those ways involves reassessing partnerships to improve the quality of care while maintaining financial flexibility.

Equipment can be one of the leading and most necessary expenses for senior living communities and networks, so logically, partnerships with providers of durable medical equipment will be examined very closely. Senior living communities must align themselves with DME providers that are “with the program,” transitioning from only providing products to providing more complete and valuable suites of products and services.

What value looks like now

Alongside America’s healthcare institutions, the country’s supply chain has been put to the test during the pandemic. DME providers are only as valuable as their supply chains, so one of the first things operators should look for when evaluating DME providers is a reliable and extensive supply chain. From last-mile delivery to vast networks of warehouses, this supply chain must be able to operate in any condition – residents and patients depend on it. 

The size of a DME provider is not everything, however; equally important is your DME’s ability to serve you. Whether you operate one community or 10, this partner must be able to deliver equipment where and when you need it. This ability usually requires years of strategically acquiring regional insurance contracts, so local expertise should not be overlooked when searching for a DME that will operate where you need it to.

After you sort out how accessible the equipment is, ensure the equipment is of a high quality, because that will factor heavily into care outcomes. It may be tempting at times to source equipment that best protects your bottom line, but with better equipment typically comes better care. This equipment is an investment, so although it may cost more up front, the boost to care will improve your network’s reputation and revenue in the long run.

The patient/resident experience is a large part of what determines the success of your network or facility, but that experience must go beyond your four walls. Partner with a DME provider that offers product support to help your residents and patients effectively use their equipment and your clinicians troubleshoot it. Virtual assistance has become especially important during the pandemic, so look for partners that can help troubleshoot on video calls or over the phone.

That same level of support also should extend to insurance, which can frustrate residents, patients and their family members who attempt to navigate it on their own. There are DME providers that have staff members dedicated to helping people with insurance issues, and in many cases, those staff members are able to help patients get their equipment for little to no money out of pocket.

Up to current standards

As your organization or facility continues making technologic investments and advancements to stay current, so, too, must your partners. Technology can bolster a DME provider’s supply chain by making distribution more efficient, resulting in equipment being delivered to residents, patients and facilities much more quickly than otherwise might happen.

And do not overlook the most basic technologic component: the website. Will your partner’s website make patients’ lives easier or frustrate them?

DME providers that automate their processes, wherever possible, may be particularly attractive. Tools such as electronic health records and digital contract management can help them answer your requests quickly, allowing your caregivers and clinicians to spend less time liaising with DME providers and more time caring for residents and patients or training their fellow staff members.

Good resident/patient experiences are the first domino for successful healthcare organizations; they become advocates for your brand, creating the referrals you need to grow. Healthcare networks have plenty of soul searching and self-evaluating to do following the pandemic, and they must pick partners that will help them navigate the continuously changing healthcare landscape.

Ryan Bullock is chief operating officer of Aeroflow Healthcare.