SPS President Regina Weger interviews Traci Dralle, President of Fillauer and President-elect of the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA). In this episode, Traci discusses how Fillauer has navigated the pandemic, changes this year to the AOPA National Assembly, and new offerings to AOPA members.
The following includes a lightly edited transcript of their conversation:
Regina: Welcome to the SPS check-in, Traci Dralle! Traci is the president of Fillauer. In addition, Traci is the president-elect of the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA). She is definitely one of the people in-the-know about all things within the industry. I thought it would be a really good idea to ask Traci to come on the SPS check-in and get her perspectives.
Most of the industry knows Fillauer quite well, but your organization overall has changed in the seven years that you have been with Fillauer. Would you mind sharing with us everything that has been happening on the Fillauer front?
Traci: Absolutely. Thank you, and thanks for having me. We have made a lot of changes over the last seven years, but one of the biggest changes has been ensuring that everyone understands who Fillauer is as a whole. Back in October 2019, we had acquired Therapeutic Recreational Systems (TRS) and brought them into the Fillauer family. One of our big focuses was to ensure that we were providing a unified voice as we combined the organization under the Fillauer umbrella to all of our customers, not only in the United States but also around the world. In addition, a lot of our focus has been on fortifying our foundation.
Regina: The Fillauer brand has a number of brands underneath the Fillauer umbrella. Can you share with us the other brands?
Traci: Yes, we have our Hosmer brand that was our first acquisition in 1996. Motion Control was in 1997, which is our myoelectric robotic arm. We also have our Fillauer North Carolina, which formerly was the OTS Corporation. They are known for the StepLock knee joint as well as the PDQ ovens (which stands for pretty darn quick!). Of course, we have the Fillauer brand. We also acquired a company out of Sweden called Centri AB. now it’s Fillauer Europe. That is where we primarily manufacture our Dynamic Walk and our Dream Skin line. And then, TRS is known for upper limb prosthetic devices. We also have Fillauer Composites, which is our R&D and foot design for composite feet.
Regina: In terms of all the companies under your umbrella, is Fillauer Europe the only line that's manufactured outside of the US?
Traci: Yes, I would say about 80–85 percent of our products are manufactured in the United States. Our largest manufacturing business unit is here in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where our headquarter is located. Fillauer North Carolina is a manufacturing facility just outside of Asheville. Motion Control and Fillauer Composites are both in Salt Lake City, Utah. TRS does all of their manufacturing in Boulder, Colorado. We receive some component parts from overseas, but primarily everything we do is manufactured in the United States. Most of our vendors are also in the United States.
Regina: Customers are asking which products were made in the US. It's great to know that over 85% of your products are made here in the US. Going back to the transition Fillauer has been going through over the past seven years, do you think going through that transition has helped you as a company adjust to the new normal of what the COVID-19 crisis has created?
Traci: I do. It's helped us a lot. One thing that has assisted us during this time is really having the right team who could create a structure and a process. It has allowed us to be more nimble. We were able to adapt really quickly. From the day we got back from the AAOP Academy meeting in March, we were making decisions, and we were making changes right away.
Something else that has helped was an internal audit on operational efficiency we performed last year. That has really prepared us to adapt to this new normal. I hope it's just a temporary new normal.
We also made a huge investment in a new ERP system last year. We were able to roll that out in three of our business units. We've had to put the others on pause but we'll be able to roll those out hopefully before the end of the year. It's not necessarily the fun and the pretty work, but at the end of the day, those things matter. Getting the data cleaned up and gaining access to everything so we have visibility of our business units in real-time is important.
Regina: In terms of what the future looks like, do you have any thoughts around what you feel will be different in six months?
Traci: Yeah, I believe how things begin next month will dictate where we will be six months from now. With all the states opening up in some capacity, a big question on everyone’s mind is “Okay, what do we do?” Congress is passing laws, RAC audits are being suspended (thank goodness), there's PPP, there's all these things coming at everyone all at once. It's like, “Okay, what do I do with all of this?” And, “how do I keep my employees?” And, “how do I keep my business up and running because we are an essential business?” At the beginning, it was very overwhelming. Now, I feel like the profession has rallied. Will patient care clinics see as many patients they saw pre-COVID in six months? Probably not. No, you're not going to have walk-ins. It will be by appointment. Alternately, having sales people pop in to say “hi,” that will also be effected going forward. In-person visits will be intentional for a while. But I can tell you, I'm super proud of this profession.
Regina: It's great to see that business owners and practitioners are really putting their patient safety and their employee safety as a priority.
Traci: I agree.
Regina: So I'm going to switch topics on you just a little bit, knowing that you've been on the AOPA board for a while and that you are the president-elect. I wanted to ask you, when's the last time AOPA has had a female on the board as a president?
Traci: So last time was Anita Liberman-Lampear, MA, and that was in 2013 and 2014. She was the second female president. The first one, interestingly, was in 1971 and 1972. AOPA is 103 years old this year, and I will be the third female president.
Regina: many people go to the September AOPA conference to get information, earn CEU credits, and learn about what’s going on in the industry. With this in mind, what are your thoughts about AOPA this year?
Traci: CEUs is a big question this year. Licensure states are having the same kind of questions. They are required to earn credits in-state, and how is that going to happen if the state meeting doesn’t occur? So we're trying to help everyone navigate that space. The AOPA staff and leadership have spent a lot of time talking to, not only clinicians and business owners, but also to the manufacturers and the exhibitors. After a lot of discussion, we have decided that the AOPA National Assembly 2020 will be the first ever virtual National Assembly. We made that decision because we recognize traveling will be very uncertain in September. We also expect that it will be a busy time for business owners. Having the meeting virtually is going to give us an opportunity to reach an even broader audience. I'm confident that with the amazing National Assembly planning committee that has put so much work into this, we can reach a lot of people while providing the high-quality education that the clinicians and business owners need.
Regina: it gives us an opportunity to be innovative and try things we probably wouldn't have tried before in the past, right? So we can absolutely turn this into something sincerely positive and fun.
So as we all know, not all O&P business owners and practitioners are members of AOPA. From your perspective, what is the biggest benefit of becoming a member of AOPA?
Traci: the biggest member benefit would be the support that the staff provides. A big thing that's come out of the pandemic is we've been able to advocate for clinicians and help them parse through the influx of news. For example, the RAC audits were postponed, including the CERT, and prior authorization was postponed. With all of these changes, I can point directly to an individual on the AOPA team instrumental in ensuring that that happened for this profession.
I also believe AOPA is a great networking opportunity to meet with their peers. They’re able to learn from each other and ask, “Okay, how are you doing? How are you handling this?” I think that's really important.
I know our coding and billing resources always rank high when we survey our members. If they’re not number one, they’re number two every single year.
And then education for, not only for the business owner but also for their team.
I think the Co-op is another great resource if people don't know about that. It's kind of a Wikipedia for everything related to payments and payers. So if you're in the state of Tennessee and you want to know what Blue Cross Blue shield's policy is on microprocessor knees, or carbon fiber AFOs, or Medicaid, or whatever it happens to be, that information is there for you at your fingertips and in one place.
We’re also excited about our new CMS Data Portal that we've just launched. It’s a repository where you can find all sorts of Medicare data related to billing and what has been billed. For example, if you wanted to see how often L5987 billed in this state over the last five years or any of those types of questions, it’s all housed in that portal.
Regina: That's great. Traci, thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else that you would like to share with the SPS family of customers and all the practitioners who will see this video?
Traci: I would just like to say thank you to the SPS family. It's a great group of folks and I really appreciate all of your support of the profession. To everyone in this profession, from the practitioners to the patients out there that may see this too, stay safe, stay healthy, stay strong. I’m proud to see how we've all rallied together, and we'll get through this together. As long as we keep our patients front and center, then I think we can really get through anything.
Regina: so on a personal note, I want to show something very old. Almost 50 years ago, I wore a Dennis Brown Bar. Strangely enough, this is the only thing that I have from my childhood (laughs). It really speaks to the quality of Fillauer products. It is almost 50 years old and I still have my Dennis Brown Bar! Thank you, we really appreciate the partnership with Fillauer and the Fillauer family. We’re excited to see all the changes that you guys are doing to help the profession and bring new products to the industry. And I know the practitioners out there are very grateful for all of your efforts. All the best to you and thank you for doing this interview with us.
Traci: Thank you so much, Regina. Appreciate it.
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