Michael Burton has extensive experience in management, sales and marketing. Burton owns and operates Burton Business Services, which provides consulting services, marketing assistance, and project management to businesses and nonprofit organizations.  He is also a partner in OandP Staffing, LLC, providing expert assistance with O&P careers.  Burton is a member of the Industry Advisory Council for O&P Business News and is President of the Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation. He also serves on the board of directors for The Center for O&P Learning & Evidence-Based Practice. Burton is a frequent speaker at colleges with O&P programs, as well as continuing education conferences. He focuses his blog on the business of O&P with a wide range of topics from marketing, human resources, health care reform and the latest business changes to impact O&P.

What’s new?

What’s new? That is the question practitioners are asking today more than any other. However, by the time someone can formulate an answer to that proverbial question the answer is already outdated. The landscape of the O&P profession is changing rapidly. Let’s ask that question a few more times.

What’s new? The exhibit hall at the recent AOPA National Assembly in Las Vegas was filled with mega booths from the large distributors and manufacturers. The mega booths were surrounded by displays from smaller companies that were exhibiting in record numbers. A practitioner could have spent the entire week in the exhibit hall and still not had enough time to visit all of the booths. New products, old favorites, improvements in existing products, and promises of new things to come were abundant. What’s new? It now takes a lot longer to answer that question.

What’s new? New federal regulations are likely coming, however nobody can yet honestly answer what they will be. The O&P Alliance and the people associated with the individual organizations that it includes have done an exceptional job with limiting the impact that current and pending legislation is having on the field. However, as always there are the naysayers who are critical of the efforts, but to be critical is not to understand what is really happening. What’s new? We continue to win battles on Capitol Hill relative to the O&P profession. If you don’t think we are winning some of the major battles, talk to the owner of a DME company. Competitive bidding is becoming a reality across the country for DME providers. If competitive bidding is not repealed the landscape of DME companies will look very different in just a few very short years. Many of these companies will not exist. What’s new? We have to continue fighting this battle to protect the O&P profession.

What’s new? Reimbursement rates have seen a decline. O&P providers have been forced to rethink many of the ways business is conducted in order to compensate for the reduction in revenues. Unfortunately, there are at least a few providers who have won bids for contracts at ridiculously low rates. At some point these providers will face the reality that nobody wins when items are reimbursed at rates that may be lower than the associated costs. What’s new? Some of the companies who have previously bid at these low rates will not be able to keep their doors open. Those who remain on the playing field will be left to defend the need for reimbursement rates to rise from artificially low levels.

What’s new? Rising costs. The cost of materials, labor, benefits, utilities, or basically everything your business writes checks for. Many businesses are not able to invest in new equipment as they once could. Numerous manufacturers and distributors are reporting zero growth. Others doing well are reporting only marginal growth. The marginal growth often fails to keep up with inflation. Many companies are not adding new positions and in many instances positions are being eliminated. The resources necessary for research and development are limited. What’s new? The need for the nation’s economy to improve. When that will happen is a question that nobody seems to be able to answer. Things will improve, but unfortunately nobody can accurately predict that timeline. Personally, I have been affected as one of the downsized employees. When numbers are down people are out. That is a basic fact of business life. I am not alone in the boat of downsized individuals. However, I remain optimistic that our profession will rebound and provide the kinds of opportunities that have historically been available. O&P services are a necessity and we will not only survive, we will thrive.

Thinking back to the AOPA Assembly in Las Vegas, there are many companies that obviously believe that things are going to get better. What’s new? These businesses are investing in our future. Technology is being introduced before its time. That is before codes are available for reimbursement. These companies have confidence in the future of the profession. What’s new? Much is being done in the area of evidence based care. All of this work is being done in preparation for the likelihood that evidenced based care will become a reality. Rather than trying to fight the future of evidenced based care, the profession has begun to embrace it by preparing the likely pathway. Each of us needs to remain informed and determine the best ways to prepare for our own future. We can allow others to determine our future, or we can do our best to affect a positive outcome.

What’s new? The need for each and every one of us to get involved, or remain involved, in working with our legislators. If you have not been involved previously, there has never been a better time to start. At first glance it would seem that I have mentioned only negative things. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed we are currently challenged. However, when we overcome large challenges we are able to reap great rewards. What’s new? You. You are going to become involved in helping to preserve and protect the future of O&P starting today. The profession thanks you.