AMARILLO, TX – Like other retailers, DME suppliers are having to compete with internet sellers of DME. Amazon and Walmart.com immediately come to mind. Even though it is a challenge, DME suppliers can compete with internet sellers by taking the following steps:
- Suppliers can acknowledge to patients that the prices of their products are somewhat higher than the prices found on Amazon and on other internet websites. However, suppliers can point out that when a patient receives a product via the internet, then the patient is essentially “on his own” when it comes to (i) setting the product up, (ii) understanding how to use the product, and (iii) what to do if the product breaks down. On the other hand, if the patient purchases the product from the local supplier, then (i) the supplier will deliver the product; (ii) the supplier will set the product up; (iii) the supplier will educate the patient on how to use the product; and (iv) if the product malfunctions, then the supplier will pick the product up and furnish a loaner while the supplier has the product repaired and subsequently returned to the patient.
- Suppliers can “fight fire with fire” by entering into a fulfillment arrangement with a distributor that will ship a product, on behalf of the supplier, to the patient’s home. The supplier can then send an employee to the patient’s home to set the product up and educate the patient on how to use the product. And the supplier can inform the patient that if the product malfunctions, then the supplier will (i) pick the product up, (ii) drop off a loaner, (iii) have the product repaired, and (iv) deliver the repaired product to the patient. By utilizing a fulfillment arrangement, the DME supplier will reduce its expenses associated with carrying a large quantity of inventory.
“Brick and mortar” DME suppliers understand that most DME products require a physician’s order. The suppliers also understand that if they are going to sell products into other states, then the suppliers likely need to obtain DME licenses in those states. However, it appears that some internet sellers are either unaware of these requirements or while aware of the requirements, choose to ignore them. As discussed in Wednesday’s AAHomecare Insider, a patient recently asked Sanford Healthcare for assistance in regulating settings on a CPAP that the patient had purchased from a third party seller via Walmart.com. The patient was unable to confirm to Sanford that the patient had received a physician’s order.
Barb Stockert (with Sanford) found that the CPAP was available on the Walmart.com platform without a prescription. North Dakota law requires (i) a prescription and (ii) that the CPAP be set up by a clinically trained professional…which did not happen. Barb reached out to the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy, which has opened an investigation into the matter, and also informed AAHomecare about the incident. AAHomecare sent a letter to Walmart about the issue, noting that (i) both federal and North Dakota laws prohibit the sale of CPAPs without a physician’s order and (ii) North Dakota law requires a DME license to sell products to North Dakota residents. Walmart responded by saying that CPAPs have been removed from its website.
When AAHomecare receives information that DME is being sold over the internet without applicable federal and state laws being followed, then AAHomecare will continue to take the appropriate action.
Jeffrey S. Baird, JD, is chairman of the Health Care Group at Brown & Fortunato, PC, a law firm based in Amarillo, Texas. He represents pharmacies, infusion companies, HME companies and other health care providers throughout the United States. Baird is Board Certified in Health Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and can be reached at (806) 345-6320 or firstname.lastname@example.org.