Medical Supply Companies: Help, Don't Harass

October 20, 2014

Medical supply companies need to stop cold calling patients offering them medical equipment without a physician's order, and trying to trick busy doctors.

A patient of mine asked me the other day if there was anything I could do to get a medical supply company from "harassing" her. She said t they keep calling her asking if they can ship more diabetes testing supplies. She has to keep saying no because at one point, they sent her too many too soon and she has an over abundance of them. Furthermore, they keep offering her heating pads and back braces; things she neither wants nor needs. And it's not just one company. She gets calls from a few.

Alas, I told her that I did not think I could help her. That's because I, too, am a victim of "harassment." I get faxes multiple times a day for diabetes testing supplies from companies that I know my patients aren't using. And since I have learned that these companies falsely claim my patients are getting supplies from them, I refuse to sign them unless my patient confirms that they want me to. If the patient says no, I write on the form "denied, patient not using this company." Sometimes it helps; but often it doesn't.

And I also get physician order forms for lumbar orthoses, heating pads, and (good grief) penile vacuum devices. My staff has tried in vain, both in writing and on the telephone, to have these companies stop sending these forms, telling them that we do not, and will not, order these items.

Why do the companies do it? Because Medicare will pay for the items if the doctor orders them, and they know that many physicians' offices don't bother checking to see if the patient: 1.) is actually using this company; and 2.) needs the items requested. Even I, who personally review each form, and check each chart to see if the patient has indicated which supply company he uses, let one slip by me not too long ago. The form said, "We have communicated with your patient and she is requesting an ankle orthosis." I knew this patient has neuropathy, so it wasn't entirely unreasonable, and she is one of those patients that I didn't feel like arguing with if she felt she needed a brace. So I signed it. Stupid me. A couple of weeks later, the patient calls, asking why I ordered her a brace! She didn't want one, and now they are charging her a copay. Fantastic. Lesson learned.

Since the same companies that provide our patients' testing supplies are the ones asking for the other devices, it is very easy to mistakenly sign off on an item. Hmmm … who is CMS going to audit when they see these claims?

These companies need to stop cold calling patients offering them medical equipment without a physician's order, and they need to stop trying to trick busy doctors into making quick money for them. This is Medicare fraud, plain and simple, and something needs to be done about it. And from a purely selfish standpoint, it's another ridiculous waste of time.