For Regina Weger, SPS’ director of sales, there is no substitute for face-to-face conversations for building customer relationships. The most meaningful way to learn about a customer’s needs is in person, which is why she, like many of SPS’ leaders and sales representatives, spends much of her time on the road visiting O&P clinics across the country.
“You have to be out there in front of the customer [in order to] understand what their needs are and anticipate what you can deliver to them that is going to be their solution,” Weger says.
In Weger’s conversations with practice owners, the most common topic is the financial challenges that the practices are facing. It is no secret that external forces, such as Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) audits, changes in Medicare documentation and regulation requirements, and rising costs of doing business, continue to hurt the profitability of O&P practices.
“It’s a tough transition for a lot of clinicians,” Weger says. “They got into the business to take care of patients, and it just so happens that they end up being business owners.” The financial pressures being placed on clinicians, she adds, force them to act as lobbyists for the O&P profession, their companies, and their staff in order to stay viable.
The Reactive Practice vs. the Proactive Practice
Weger says that in her travels and clinic visits, she has been noticing patterns in the ways practice owners are responding to today’s profession-wide challenges. The practice owners who are struggling are in what she calls reactive mode. Examples she cites of reactive habits include straining to adjust to regulation changes long after they have occurred and focusing on granular costs instead of big-picture issues affecting profitability.
“You’ve got those reactive practices that are just trying to keep their doors open, and then there are the more proactive folks who are ensuring that as change happens, they are [adapting] and actually thriving because of it,” Weger says. She stresses, however, that this does not mean the reactive practice is not working hard; contrarily, if you are a practice owner with reactive habits, you are likely working exceedingly hard. “But are you working smart? Are you doing the things…to ensure that you’re going to be successful in the next ten years? In the next 20 years?” she asks.
Challenges to Come (and Stay)
Looking to the next five to ten years, Weger says that changing patient care structures will continue to be one of the most important obstacles for O&P practices to overcome.
“Competitive bidding has the potential to make significant changes in how patients are being served and how they are receiving the products that O&P practitioners are providing right now,” she says. Further, more physicians may continue to merge into groups of other healthcare providers or be bought out by larger hospitals, and she says this trend will continue to have an impact on how O&P practitioners serve their patients as their referral sources undergo these structural shifts.
To help navigate changing patient care structures, Weger advises practices to form partnerships with organizations and companies that provide additional resources to their administrative and patient care staff. In addition to its product distribution services, Weger says, SPS offers programs designed to free up time for its customers so their practices can focus on the big-picture issues that they need to address in order to be proactive and successful.
Delivering Solutions, Not Just Boxes
Weger says that SPS’ idea of providing services beyond product distribution began taking shape ten years ago. As a result of that, she says, “SPS is not just delivering boxes. We’re delivering solutions.”
In 2013, Weger helped to launch the SPS Rewards Program and Clinical Outcomes and Documentation Education (CODE), two initiatives designed to benefit independent O&P clinics.
The Rewards Program allows SPS customers to purchase products from certain manufacturers-such as Freedom Innovations, WillowWood, and Aspen Medical Products-at even greater savings than what SPS customers already receive. SPS continually updates the products offered in its Rewards Program and sends out revised brochures to its customers to keep them informed. Weger says that the Rewards Program was conceived as a direct response to SPS’ customers, many of whom have been struggling to stay profitable in the face of audits, reduced payer reimbursements, and other financial pressures placed on their practices.
CODE is a service that provides documentation support for SPS customers. CODE Program Director Molly McCoy, CPO, provides one-on-one consultations with customers via phone and e-mail, and she hosts webinars and posts informational videos on YouTube that address common documentation issues.
New SPS programs, as well as improvements to existing ones, are currently in development, Weger says. The most effective program ideas-those that allow practice owners to become more proactive-spring from quality, face-to-face conversations with customers, which is why Weger and other SPS leaders will continue investing much of their time visiting practices and listening to owners’ needs.
“Nobody is going to get anything accomplished sitting behind a desk,” Weger says.