Professional development

The pelvic health and wellness program: A niche clinical entity

In today’s healthcare climate, women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) and other NPs providing healthcare for women are in a unique position, as front-line providers, to develop and implement a comprehensive, conservative, community-based pelvic health and wellness program (PHWP) within their chosen practice settings. The PHWP provides screening, assessment, and management of pelvic floor disorders (Table 1). These disorders include urinary incontinence (UI), overactive bladder (OAB), pelvic organ prolapse, chronic pelvic pain, and sexual dysfunction.1 The PHWP, an innovative, nontraditional, niche offering, can provide a much-needed clinical service in the community, broaden and enhance an NP’s own practice potential, and create a sound business venture to increase practice revenue. This program is a win-win situation because, with proper diagnosis and treatment, more than 90% of women with bladder or pelvic disorders can experience great improvement or a remission of their symptoms.

The healthcare landscape

The time is right; the need is now! Demographic trends are changing the nature of the healthcare landscape. Although overtaken by the Millennials in population, the number of Baby Boomers (persons born between 1946 and 1964) who are entering the 65+ age group is still increasing; the nation’s 65-and-older population grew from 44.7 million in 2013 to 46.2 million in 2014.2 Although people are living longer than ever before, many of them spend the extra years coping with the burden of chronic conditions such as diabetes and UI.3 However, many active women of today will not settle for wearing diapers or pads as the solution to their bladder problems, and will proactively seek help.4 And many Millennials want to make sure that they won’t suffer the consequences of poor pelvic health that their mothers and grandmothers endured. Prenatal and postpartum programs to restore the pelvic floor muscles (PFMs) are both part of the larger PHWP.

Although many women seek professional care for bladder and pelvic problems, others are too afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to do so. They feel that they have no place to go, and no one to turn to for help. Instead, they sit at home wearing diapers or pads. They fear that the only treatment is surgery and are unaware that conservative measures are available. But if their healthcare provider’s office offered a PHWP, they could avail themselves of the evaluation and treatment they need. That’s where you come into the picture.

Two models: Intrapreneur and entrepreneur

A PHWP can be developed via an intrapreneurial or an entrepreneurial approach. Intrapreneurial NPs, on their own initiative, approach the physicians/partners in the practice with the idea of establishing a PHWP and outline a plan that would transform the idea into a worthy and profitable undertaking. If the physicians/partners approve the plan, then they take responsibility for providing financial and administrative support for the program’s implementation.5 In these situations, the NPs become the program’s managers and take full responsibility  for implementing all facets of it.

This packaging of existing services into a focused  PHWP enhances overall care. Because of the downstream effect of the presence of the PWHP, the general patient base of the practice will likely increase. The woman with UI who is sitting at home with a pad will see that she is not alone, that she has a place to go, and that she has a provider who can address her  problem. Another plus for the practice is that the PWHP provides an internal surgical referral base for patients who prefer the option of surgery over more conservative approaches. Establishment of a PHWP enables the practice to promote the new program, burnishing the favorable image of the practice and increasing its visibility within the community. As I said, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Entrepreneurs, in contrast to intrapreneurs, not only conceive the innovative ideas surrounding the development and establishment of a PWHP, but they also organize, operate, finance, and assume the ris for the new business venture on their own, working outside an existing organizational structure.6 Entrepreneurship is hard work, but well worth the effort, for individuals with an adventurous spirit and the personal and professional resources to support it. An entrepreneurial independent practice requires more financial resources and time and has more potential risks than does the intrapreneurial model, but it also offers greater potential rewards.

Engaging in an intrapreneurial or entrepreneurial enterprise is not for everyone. As with any business venture, NPs must perform the necessary analysis to determine whether this pursuit is right for them. Table 2 lists potential reimbursements from women who progress through the PHWP, as well as costs associated with setting up a PHWP. The start-up costs are relatively low compared with the dramatically higher practice revenue.7 Understanding the basics of coding is essential to both models.8 Medicare and most insurance companies reimburse for assessments, treatments, and procedures done in a PHWP. ICD-10 changes have had little effect on these billing practices. However, NPs need to learn how to get reimbursed and how to maximize those reimbursements, as well as learn what it takes to operate a business and write grants for startup costs. And they will need to develop and establish a patient base and referral sources—the keys to success.

A PHWP can be established in settings other than offices and clinics. For example, intrapreneurial NPs who work in nursing homes or extended-care facilities can pursuethis goal as well.

Strategic enhancements

Whether NPs choose an intrapreneurial or an entrepreneurial approach, they will find that a PHWP can:

Dramatically increase practice revenue. For example, the program can generate $1,000-$2,500 for each patient who progresses through the program (6-8 visits) and gross $100,000-$250,000 a year per 100 patients (not including advanced procedures/testing such as pessary insertion or urodynamic testing);

Recapture monies lost from Medicare cutbacks by offering a program that is procedurally base with a history of proven reimbursement from Medicare;

Provide a lucrative service line to meet the pelvic health needs of women throughout the lifespan, but particularly of the emerging Baby Boomer generation;

Be current and competitive by offering a PHWP;

Package resources and enhance and merge existing

service lines to create a structured, step-bystep program of pelvic healthcare;

Increase utilization of existing resources such as ultrasonography, bladder scans, and laboratory services;

Provide a portal to other services that the practice may offer;

Establish a niche as the premier source of conservative pelvic healthcare in your area;

Increase the practice’s surgical referral base by recruiting women through the conservative arm who decide on a surgical alternative;

Enhance quality of life for women experiencing pelvic dysfunction; and

Enhance marketing opportunities and increase visibility and viability of your practice by offering an exciting new program that can be promoted in the community.7

Timing

Timing is everything. The Affordable Care Act provides two billable opportunities for the integration of pelvic health assessment into a pelvic health practice in the form of preventive teaching and a comprehensive screen. These opportunities are the annual wellness visit under Medicare and the well-woman visit for all other women.

For the first time, two major physician organizations have recommended that first-line therapies for UI and OAB be conservative rather than surgical. The American College of Physicians recommends education, pelvic floor exercises, timed voiding, and fluid managment for UI.9 The American Urological Association offers similar guidelines for OAB.10 These recommendations are well within the scope of practice for NPs.

Financials

At the Health & Continence Institute (HCI), gross revenue is $1,000-$2,500 as each woman progresses through the program. This revenue range does not include fees for pessary insertion. An important aspect is that NPs would be recruiting patients not for just a single visit but, rather, for entry into the PHWP, where they would remain for a series of 6-8 visits over 3-4 months. Startup costs are covered after 4-6 patients complete the program.

When you consider the return on investment, startup costs are strikingly low. These costs depend on the type of model you pursue. Intrapreneurs can easily insert their program into the daily routine of their home office. Only one room is needed for 2-3 days a week. Entrepreneurs have the added challenge of setting up a new office and purchasing equipment and supplies.11 Grants for this purpose are available from organizations such as The Simon Foundation for Continence and The National Associationfor Incontinence. Adding only two new patients a week to the program can lead to gross revenue of $100,000-$250,000. But the best news is that the conservative measures implemented in a PHWP greatly enhance quality of life for women who previously had few options.

Conclusion

The number of women who have pelvic health problems will only increase as Baby Boomers age.12 Pelvic health conditions have been neglected for years, even though they comprise 2 of the 10 most common chronic conditions in U.S. women—OAB and UI.13 These two conditions affect a higher percentage of persons of all age groups than do hypertension, depression, and diabetes.13WHNPs and other NPs caring for women are well positioned to champion, initiate, and implement a PHWP within a practice setting as intrapreneurs or entrepreneurs. An NP entrepreneur is no longer an oxymoron! In fact, it is somewhat surprising that there has not been a groundswell of practitioners wanting to provide this niche clinical service. A large part of the problem may be that practitioners have nowhere to turn to for practical advice or training for themselves!

On a more personal level, many NPs have reached out to the HCI to share that, at this point in their careers, they are seeking new challenges and causes to champion. Many of them are also looking for potential opportunities and ways to meet the needs of women with pelvic health concerns who do not know where to turn. Even more NPs are looking for ways to provide a niche service that is also financially advantageous for them.

Whether readers want to proceed as intrapreneurs or entrepreneurs, they are about to embark on an exciting, rewarding, and lucrative career opportunity. Good luck! =

Helen A. Carcio is founder and director of the Health & Continence Institute, where she independently manages her pelvic health center in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Readers can contact her at the HCI website. She was an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the nurse practitioner program. The author states that she does not have a financial interest in or other relationship with any commercial product named in this article.

References

1. Haylen BT, de Ridder D, Freeman RM, et al. An International Urogynecological Association (IUGA)/International Continence Society (ICS) joint report on the terminology for female pelvic floor dysfunction. Neurourol Urodyn.

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