When it comes to product development, the last 30 years have brought novelty after novelty, moving at breakneck speed through gadgets and appliances as technology develops almost daily. Think of your TV 30 years ago, or mobile phone, if you had one. How about the leaps and bounds taken by home tech, which has quickly reached levels only dreamed of in sci-fi films a few decades ago?
However, amid all this progress, one area has been notably left behind: home medical equipment (HME), or durable medical equipment (DME).
Now that we are finally emerging from the COVID haze, our thoughts can settle on an unavoidable realization: that all the demographic studies, advancements in medicine and increased awareness of our general health have contributed to our population aging more than ever before. Canadians are living longer, healthier, and more independent than ever, and they want to remain active, involved and… in their own homes. The result is an unprecedented demand for home healthcare products, but is this demand being met?
The Challenges of Operating in the Home Healthcare Market
Though the industry is filled with challenges, just like any other, specific features of home healthcare mean companies working in the sector are kept constantly on their toes. Without room to take a breath, innovation takes a backseat due to several factors.
The Urgency of Home Healthcare Projects
The first is that many projects are the direct result of a fall or medical incident. These then set off a chain reaction through an already maxed out healthcare system where recovery from these accidents/incidents are very likely to be forced back to the home with unrealistic timelines. Families are stressed, and this stress is then pushed down to the operators and no matter how good or prepared they are, there is almost always disappointment and missed timelines…and this was prior to the significant shipping and supply chain issues experienced in recent times, -in general, and specifically within the HME sector.
The Pressure of Running a Small Business
Operators, contractors, and resellers of home medical equipment have traditionally been local players able to best serve their local clients. They play a demanding and sometimes unappreciated role made more challenging by large overheads, deep accounts receivable and a lack of working capital. They are forced to work in their businesses instead of on their businesses, which tends to take a significant amount of time, leaving them short on ideas, planning, awareness, and funds.
Corporate expansion is simply not on the table for many companies in this industry. However, with their own lead referral sources keeping them busy enough, growing demand is quickly becoming impossible to stay on top of, with urgent clients and projects vying for their turn.
Slow changes to the Home Healthcare Market
Though the challenges faced by mobility and accessibility companies mean they are slow to innovate, not helped by true innovators within DME often getting lost on the path to market – one that is difficult and less profitable than in other industries, – things are starting to change. In the past, money would only be thrown at sexy products and investment made into the short game. Now, however, what was once the steady play, the necessary evil to ensure Mom or Dad are safe and happy, has begun shining through as an industry with potential.
A light at the end of the tunnel for the Home Healthcare Industry
Many large entities, associations and companies have now understood the business angle resulting from the aging demographic and are now investing in making these processes as easy as many of the conveniences we now enjoy as part of modern life. Changing demographics, aging advocacy and awareness have slowly started kindling the flame of development around the products used for home care. Thanks to its ability to pivot quickly (and deep cash reserves), the tech industry has taken hold, enabling it to produce several solutions aimed at the elder population in recent times. Though their struggle continues, mobility and accessibility companies can’t help but get swept up in the wave of progress.
Changing perceptions have meant new positioning for HME, placing it, at long last, so that it can receive an injection of true investment and see a change towards operational excellence, setting it on the right track to meeting the needs of Canadian society. However, to really make a difference, products need to be made available, easy to deploy and use, and fulfill customers’ needs. These changes need to be implemented alongside industry professionals, home care experts and the clients themselves, following a holistic understanding of the healthcare curve to provide widespread solutions that last.
It seems things in the industry are now picking up speed, allowing companies to bring their experience and expertise forward and speak out about what they need. However, continued governmental support in the form of tax subsidies, grants, and investments is making a difference in the meantime, bridging the gap between the demand and supply of Home Medical Equipment until the industry can undergo the changes necessary to meet the needs of the future.