How Can We Be Perceived as More than Vendors?

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By Joyce Perrone

How do we elevate the O&P industry to a different level from that of a Little Debbie snack distributor?

We often hear it from hospital systems to lower our prices. After going through lengthy discussions, it always comes back to "yes, but what is the discount?" Then that purchasing agent leaves the company, and I go through the same process again with the next agent.

I figure it is our job to educate these folks, even if it is just one at a time. On my visits, I give them information they can READ and review. Believe me, I've seen our colleagues give totally unprofessional printed materials to agents, including cockeyed photocopies, materials with bad spelling and grammar (use spell check!), and with only price information. Much of the information I have seen in the hands of the purchasing agents is not clear about what we really do as professionals in our industry and does not differentiate us from the guy who drops off copier toner. Of course, even when given good information, the agents still just look for the price.

We need to educate payers and get the doctors, nurses, and therapists to be our champions. I would love to see more information available to referral sources, payers, and patients about what each of us can do. Sending more PAC money is not the ultimate answer, in my view. I think it may be a piece of the solution, but we still have work to do as individuals.

What We Can Do

Here are some of my thoughts. Having been active as a medical practice administrator, I came to O&P with a very different view. I acted like someone who was an administrator for a medical practice--not for Little Debbie snacks.

Let's all take it up about ten notches and act like professionals.

What O&P Professionals Can Do
 

  • Join medical organizations and serve on committees. Start with your state's MGMA (Medical Group Management Association). Visit www.mgma.com to find your state group. I joined the Pennsylvania MGMA, where I eventually became president of the organization, and I did a considerable amount of work on the education committees, working side by side with other medical practice administrators. When you join an organization such as this, respect that you are there to promote that organization and not your own. Allow that to come naturally. Focus on the task you are there to do. Nothing will make a group angrier and more likely to isolate you than being an aggressive orthotist/prosthetist who acts like a vendor! Behave as a colleague.
  • Get involved with the hospital-based groups. Attend other educational events as well as those in O&P. In Pittsburgh, we have PRHI (Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative) in which the entire face of healthcare is being changed. Some of the brightest people are involved.
  • It is difficult to get involved unless you are actively reading and learning outside of the O&P field. For instance, read articles on complexity science as it applies to healthcare. Read such articles as James Reason's piece on "Human Error: Models and Management" in the March 2000 issue of the British Medical Journal ( www.bmj.com). Visit healthcare websites such as www.plexusinstitute.com and www.qualityhealthcare.com. Visit such sites as www.complexityscience.org and www.criticalthinking.org. Sounds like heady, intellectual stuff--but if we don't want to be treated like vendors, then we have to raise ourselves up to the level of intellectual capacity of the true professional.
  • We must also stop giving in to price cuts. I bid on a contract and, unbelievably, the company who said the most about not cutting price went to 22 percent below Medicare just to get the contract. To me, this shows total laziness. There was no other creative way to sell themselves other than price-cutting.
  • Compete creatively. Know what is really going on in healthcare and be involved. How many of you know about your local medical societies? Do you sponsor any of their events? Do you speak at these events? Do you write articles for their journals?
     

Joyce Perrone is a consulting partner for PROMISE (Progressive Management Information Systems Enterprise), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and practice administrator for De La Torre Orthotics & Prosthetics Inc., Pittsburgh. She is past president of the Pennsylvania Medical Group Management Association (PAMGMA).