With the demand for home-care services growing, consumers are buying more products for spouses, parents or children who have been discharged from, or are in and out of, acute-care or long-term-care settings.
Retailers are starting to realize the potential for marketing home-care products and equipment to patients where they buy the rest of their personal-care products: in retail drugstores or through catalogs.
A home-care "superstore" that opened in the Phoenix area last fall has raised eyebrows within the distribution network of durable medical equipment and home medical supplies.
Health 'n' Home, a 28,000-square-foot building that offers 30,000 healthcare products, is a pilot project of American Stores. The Salt Lake City-based company operates 1,600 stores with brand names such as Osco, Lucky and Sav-on.
Its staff consists of healthcare professionals such as registered nurses, therapists and billing specialists. Home 'n' Health accepts insurance coverage from 350 payers, including Medicare.
Within its pharmacy department, a case management staff can arrange for home-care services ordered by a physician, such as oxygen therapy or home infusion, said Judy Decker, an American Stores spokeswoman. Health 'n' Home's general manager, Alfred Homiski, had been president and chief operating officer at Rehabilitation Services Corp., an operator of 35 freestanding rehabilitation hospitals and 42 outpatient centers based in Santa Monica, Calif.
In the past, there wasn't a comparable site where people could look at an extensive range of home-care products, Decker said. "We're taking it and putting it all under one roof."
With all sectors of the healthcare industry searching for ways to serve an ever-expanding number of people over age 50, the home-care products market is projected to grow rapidly.
The move to improve home-care services-before or after hospital stays-is seen as resulting in shorter hospital stays.
By 1999, the home-care products market could approach $5 billion, according to a study released last year by Find/SVP, a New York-based market research firm.
In Find/SVP's preliminary interviews for an upcoming study of home medical equipment outlets, suppliers expressed keen interest in the "superstore" model, said Patricia DeGrandchamp, healthcare program manager.
Within the home-care products market, the retail section could reach $500 million in the next few years, according to executives at Invacare, an Elyria, Ohio-based HME manufacturer.
The company last month acquired Frohock-Stewart, which sells its line of bath safety products primarily through retail outlets such as chain drugstores and home centers. Invacare reported 1995 revenues of $500 million. Frohock-Stewart has annual sales of $10 million.
Invacare decided to let Frohock-Stewart remain an independent company, allowing it to concentrate on providing mass retailers with a large selection of home-care products under the name Aurora. Invacare will continue to focus on established HME distributors.
"Retailers will help drive the entire market," said Bennett Rubin, vice president for marketing at Invacare, who oversees the Frohock-Stewart line. Once people can buy products off the shelf in retail outlets, "you get a lot more consumer influence on the products," he said. As a result, competition could heat up and give rise to higher-quality, lower-cost products.
Among 80 HME suppliers surveyed by trade magazine Medical Products Sales, 70% said patients have become more interested in retail purchases, and 51% are willing to pay out of pocket for equipment upgrades.
Many retail companies, such as J.C. Penney Co., have offered home-care products for several years but recently have expanded their home-care offerings to include bigger items like wheelchairs and scooters.
Sears, Roebuck and Co.'s home health catalog is 30 years old, according to Jan Drummond, a spokeswoman for the Sears merchandise group, based in Hoffman Estates, Ill. However, it recently expanded its range of products that enable seniors who aren't disabled to live independently longer.
It makes sense for consumers who are beginning to use home care to find the new products they need at the brand-name drugstores with which they're familiar.
Both Eckerd Drug Stores, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Walgreens, based in Deerfield, Ill., recently opened versions of their stores geared toward consumers of home-care products.
For caregivers, it's a matter of convenience as well as making home care more feasible. An increased availability of living aids probably will allow people to move from a hospital bed to home faster, DeGrandchamp said. "If someone is borderline, this makes it easier for them."