My objective in this article is to help provide some guidance to the Solo DME Provider or Solo Pedorthist that is seeking to set up a medical office. The tips I will share will also be helpful to solo providers in other fields (e.g. Orthotics, Podiatry, Physical Therapy, Orthopedic Surgeons, Prosthetics Providers, Mental Health Providers, Primary Care providers, etc), as well as small group practices. But I strongly believe that the solo providers with limited capital will benefit mostly from this article. I will be discussing pre-setup activities, DME Billing, Marketing, Pedorthics Billing, Sales strategies, Online marketing, Website development for small medical providers, Private pay, and Credentialing.
Before opening a small DME business, you must first determine if a need exists within your location. Learn the market for a DME office in your neighborhood. If your area has too many other DME providers, it will be more challenging for you to succeed in creating a DME business there. Roughly, it is estimated that a city with a population under 150,000 is fine with five to 10 DME businesses. You can also reach out to medical offices and insurance companies to ask what they think about opening a new DME store in your area. Of course, you will have to make your decision based on several other information and your personal conviction, it is not a bad idea to start this way. Also, consider different markets or products that your DME business could focus on. Decide whether you like to generalize, focus on a niche market or provide repair or installation services that other DME providers around you don’t provide.
Then you would have to develop a clear idea of how to get customers through referral sources — doctors, hospitals, nurses and nursing homes. Once you are convinced that there are good sale opportunities within your location, you should then decide from the beginning if you would like to consider private pay patients only or you would like to consider both private pay patients and patients who would like to pay with their health insurance. If you like to accept health insurance payments, you also have to consider if you like to work only with private insurance or you would work with both private insurance payers and public insurance payers (medicare and Medicaid).
Most small DME businesses choose to work only with private pay patients because they like to avoid the initial hassles of credentialing with private and public payers, as well as the actual medical billing process. My view is that you should start with private pay patients only but immediately start your credentialing process with both private and public insurance payers to increase your customer base. If you start the credentialing process early and outsource the process to an efficient third-party company, you can get yourself credentialed with major payers within less than six months. Delon Health is an example of a company that can handle your DME billing, Pedorthics billing and Podiatry Billing outsourcing. They are based in Massachusetts but work with solo providers across all fifty states. If you start with private pay, it means you would have been making some income within the credentialing period, while you wait to be fully registered with multiple insurance payers. It makes no business sense to delay your business setup until you have completed your credentialing processes. Also, don’t start with too many insurance payers. Identify about five payers that you like to begin with and pursue those ones first. If you choose to work with insurance payers, it is much cheaper and far more efficient for you to outsource your medical billing to a third-party company. The two-minute video below provides an excellent explanation about this.
Pedorthics Insurance Billing is a medical billing subject that includes sending patient bills to health insurance companies (payers), following up to ensure the bills are paid on time, as well as managing rejections and denials. In many cases, medical billing providers working for Pedorthists may provide Credentialing as additional services to their customers. According to the American Academy of Professional Coders, “Medical billing is the process of submitting and following up on claims with health insurance companies in order to receive payment for services rendered by a healthcare provider. Medical billing translates a healthcare service into a billing claim. The responsibility of the medical biller in a healthcare facility is to follow the claim to ensure the practice receives reimbursement for the work the providers perform. A knowledgeable biller can optimize revenue performance for the practice.”
This also applies to the DME business owner. While they will find it much easier to sell to private pay patients only, they also need to work with insurance companies if they want to make more income. Many new providers quickly dismiss insurance payments because of the hassles and the fact that reimbursements have reduced in recent years after the enactment of OBAMACARE. However, the potential volume income from dealing with many patients who rely solely on insurance makes it a wise business idea to still consider working with insurance payers. Besides, most patients are not even able to afford private pay, so you will be limiting yourself to continue to depend only on private pay patients. For many solo providers, their practices are usually too small to hire full-time medical billers. They are therefore mostly stuck with two options – to handle medical billing by themselves or outsource billing to a third-party billing company. The video above does good justice to this question.
Once you have made your decision about billing, you need to research about suppliers and consider testimonials, durability and pricing. Because you want to run a profitable business, you don’t want to work with expensive products that people in your location cannot easily afford. But you also want to ensure quality and durability in any products you select. Very importantly, I always encourage solo providers to seek advice from several providers and patients about different products before they settle for suppliers to partner with. If you have a good credit rating, it is better to negotiate credit supplies directly with the manufacturer or wholesaler instead of getting bank loans to stock products.
Now let’s talk about strategies. Once you have determined all these points above, you now need to ensure you write your business plan and make it as comprehensive and clear as possible. Share this document with mentors and friends that you trust, listen to their critiques and do as many adjustments as you can before you move forward with the business. Sometimes after a thorough business plan is done, people can correctly decide not to go ahead with the business. In some cases, people tweak their original thoughts based on feedbacks and research findings, and in other cases, people move forward. No matter how small a business will be, it is very important to develop a business plan.
Before you open that store, remember to apply for an employer identification number with the IRS, apply for a merchant account with a credit card processing company if you intend to accept credit cards as a form of payment, and decorate your office nicely to attract people. You should of course choose a good company name that is related to your services and secure a suitable website domain name. Be careful not to spend too much on websites because many small website development companies charge unnecessarily high fees even to solo providers. You can get a good website done at less than $500 or less than $1,000 if you talk to a company that is really focused on helping solo medical providers become more profitable. This is something that makes a company like Delon Health different. They provide cheap and suitable website development and SEO support to solo and small medical practices. Their services offer small medical practices guaranteed cash flow improvement, zero startup cost, 24hrs support, increased profit, improved organization and opportunity to deliver better healthcare to patients. They provide credentialing, electronic medical and dental billing, website development and maintenance, search engine optimization, and other complementary services.
When you get to the stage of choosing office space, consider locations close to doctors’ offices, suites of medical providers or hospitals. Medical providers are more likely to refer patients to DME or Pedorthics offices closer to them than the ones far from them. Though it may not matter in certain circumstances, you may consider office locations that is a little distant from other DME providers in your neighborhood. Also, obtain whatever licenses are required in your city. Opportunities are increasing for Pedorthists in recent years as more patients suffer from foot-related injuries or conditions. The baby-boom generation is requiring pedorthic care more often as they grow older. Also patients who are active in sports rely on a pedorthist for help if they damage foot nerves or ligaments. So, there will be many opportunities for self-employed pedorthists (solo providers) within this decade, and it is important for them to learn about the business side of things before they get started.
Now let’s talk more about how a DME provider or Pedorthist can promote their business online and through networking. Register your business with google and other free listing websites so that people can find you easily. In addition to this, you must utilize social media a lot. Social media is no longer just a tool to gain exposure—it has now become a necessary time investment for every business to make. You can include ads and offers on your Facebook page and have a direct channel with your customers on Twitter. You can also use Linkedin to market yourself and your business in a more professional way than the other social media platforms.
As I discussed earlier, get a company to create a nice simple affordable website for you. Develop good contents for the website and highlight all that prospective customers need to know about you and your business on the website. It is a good idea to try to address the following questions in your website and other marketing documentation – What is/are your products and/or services? Who is your customer? What is your unique selling proposition (another way of saying what makes you different)? What kind of people or companies can refer customers to you? A website is not compulsory to start a business, so if you don’t have much money, don’t stress yourself setting up one.
Though it is not compulsory to have a business name, it is strongly advisable to do so. A business name will actually be required if you want to register business with the government, open a business bank account and pay business taxes. Make branding choices like colours, fonts, sizes, formats, etc and stay consistent with this. Create nice videos for your business and tie these to your social media platforms and website. For a small company, you don’t need to spend money on professional videos. Use your phone to make videos and open a dedicated youtube account to post them on. Create new videos regularly (maybe once a month, once a quarter or even once a week in some cases). Remember that you should do your best to spend as little as possible to reduce your startup risk.
Without spending much, put in place some Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies on your website and social media accounts. You can learn basic SEO strategies from google search and you don’t need to invest heavily on this. Join several online communities and make sure you are regularly contributing and visible. If you are creating a website, make sure you have a blog section that allows you to regularly post your articles but if you’re not creating a website, you can set up a free blog website through which you can regularly post articles in your business area. Blog is really a great tool that can make people quickly view you as ‘subject-matter-expert’ if you are constantly writing with facts and authority.
Whichever additional methods you choose for marketing your business online, you must ensure you’re creating contents that attract people to view your contents (website, social media adverts as well as your adverts on other 3rd-party websites). You must be engaging either through highly valuable texts, apt marketing pictures or funny educational videos. The competition in the online space is so vast that you have to do a great and consistent job with your contents to get noticed.
Don’t consider linkedin as being too formal – use it to link up with your former school mates and former colleagues, who can really help you promote your business a great deal. LinkedIn groups are a great way for quickly connecting with others in your industry or niche to help spread your message. You can promote your content through LinkedIn groups as long as you don’t come across as spammy. It’s best to add value to a conversation or discussion before trying to drop your links.
LinkedIn groups are also a great way of contacting people who you might not have mutual connections with. You can message any other member in the group without being connected, which can become a huge asset depending on the situation. Share updates often in the group and be sure to stay in the spotlight without oversharing. Use Facebook effectively and if you have extra funds, you can place good ads. Facebook ads offer a great opportunity for reaching the right demographics for your business. As long as you know your customer well, you can use metrics like interests, geographic location, marital status, age and many others, to locate potential consumers to send to targeted landing pages, also known as squeeze pages. Don’t forget – use Instagram to build followers.
Let’s get more technical. While creating texts/contents for your products and services, you need to spend good time to research the appropriate keywords that people will typically be using to search for such products. Ultimately, it is very important to develop a sound marketing and sales strategy to effectively promote your business.
You may also find printing and distribution of flyers helpful. Also, you should always be ready with your elevator pitch everywhere you go – you never know when you would meet a prospective customer. Be consistent with your messaging in online and paper media, as well as during verbal communication about your products and services. Networking is also very essential. Join local chamber of commerce, groups of seniors, groups of providers working mostly with seniors, business networking groups, etc. Look for opportunities to speak at events so that you can make yourself visible in your community.
Finally, ensure to keep writing all you’re learning as you promote your business. Your initial business plan must not be treated as a static document. Continue to tweak and adjust contents based on new learnings. Don’t keep fresh thoughts, ideas or strategies in your brain, mind or even your phone. You will be able to execute old and new strategies better if you take time out to put them down on paper. I wish you success as you embark on your new business.