Bariatric market offers 'potentially explosive' growth for providers

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

BRYAN, Ohio - The market for bariatric HME products shows no signs of slowing down, and no one knows that better than the folks at Gendron, who earlier this month moved into a new assembly facility for the second time in five years. The old facility spanned 60,000 square feet; the new one, 100,000 square feet. "Right now about 34% of the U.S. population is considered obese," said Gendron CEO Steve Cotter. "Looking forward, over the next five years, it's estimated that number will go up to 75%." Gendron specializes in manufacturing bariatric beds, manual and power wheelchairs, and bath safety products for home care, acute care and long-term care. Here's what Cotter had to say about this booming market segment.

HME News: Does this segment hold a lot of potential for HME providers?

Steve Cotter: I think this could be potentially explosive for them. Unfortunately, if the bariatric patient is not a candidate for surgery, he will need extended care and extended care generally means for the remainder of his life. Long-term care is not equipped to absorb the number of patients that we anticipate. There are simply not enough beds. The current thinking is that in-home patient care is the lowest cost method of delivering health care.

HME: But just because you are a power mobility provider or rent beds doesn't mean you are qualified to provide bariatric products, right?

Cotter: We don't think so. The scope of everything you do changes dramatically. Just as you may have rehab tech on staff who are really good with power mobility or ultra-light wheelchairs for someone who is very active, I think you need someone on staff who is really good with communicating and understanding the needs of the bariatric client.

HME: Are some providers reluctant to enter this market?

Cotter: Some that we have seen have entered it and shouldn't have because they are not equipped to do it. Others are moving slowly to understand it, and those are the ones who will succeed. And there are some that just kind of stand back who, I think, are reluctant to get deeply involved.

HME: Why reluctant?

Cotter: The special needs and special requirements. Having someone on staff who can communicate. And the investment in equipment: This stuff is expensive. It is not the same thing as a standard manual chair, a conventional patient lift and especially when you get into beds. 

HME: What are the needs of a bariatic patient?

Cotter: Mobility. Sleep surfaces. Toileting and bathing. Transferring and lifting. Sleep apnea is a big problem. Chance are these patients have some kind of respiratory need. And really, those HME and rehab providers who are really good at this understand wound care because wound care is a big deal.

HME: For some providers, then, it seems that adding a bariatric component to their business might make sense.

Cotter: I think it would be a natural extension. If the HME provider has access to this patient through their referral source at ABC Hospital, for example, they may be treating that bariatric patient today for sleep apnea, wound care and respiratory. So where is the DME component?