Bariatrics growth goes gangbusters

Saturday, December 31, 2005

YARMOUTH, Maine - Thanks to the fast food and plethora of great TV channels that's expanding America's waistline, suppliers and manufacturers can't quite believe what's happening to their bariatric business.
"We've had 100% growth in bariatrics referrals over the past year," said Michael McDonald, president of Clinical 1 Home Medical in Weymouth, Mass., "and we expect that to double in the next year."
At Dynamic Medical Systems, the percentage of business coming in from bariatrics is expected to rise from 10% of the company's revenues to 30% to 50% in the near-term.
"Bariatric products are really special because they began as such a small market and are now growing so quickly with no apparent end in sight," said Dave Robertson, president and CEO of Dynamic Medical Systems.
The bariatrics boom is no surprise to anyone who's picked up a newspaper in the past year or two. Barely a day goes by that one major newspaper or another doesn't run a report about the rising incidence of obesity in America, and its seemingly endless array of co-morbidities such as diabetes and sleep-disordered breathing.
To serve the HME needs of the 4 million Americans who are now morbidly obese, and the legions of merely overweight, what worked as recently as a few years ago is now obsolete.
"When we started Drive five years ago, we thought we would add value by increasing our weight capacity to 300 pounds when the industry standard was 250 pounds," said Doug Francis, the executive vice president of Drive Medical in Farmingdale, N.Y. "Now we've increased our standard weight capacity on many of our non-bariatric items to 350 pounds."
At Graham-Field, standard wheelchairs until a few years ago used to stretch 18 inches. Today that standard has widened by more than 10% to 20 inches. G-F no longer rolls out any product line unless it has a bariatric complement. At Medtrade this year, G-F debuted a new line of bariatric recliners capable of handling people who weigh as much as 600 pounds.
"They have as much activity as any product we exhibited," said Larry de la Haba, a vice president at G-F in Atlanta.
At rehab centers, there's been a trend away from the treatment of car crash victims and toward the treatment of obese patients.
"One of my rehab centers, where they used to specialize in stroke patients, they're now specializing in obesity," said McDonald.
It's no longer just about the 350-pound patient. The 700-pound patient is an ever-increasing phenomenon. While that phenomenon might not merit a huge investment in inventory, it's important that suppliers are able to service such a patient,say vendors.
"When a dealer is able to show the ability to service these 'headache' referrals, the therapist is more inclined to give the dealer more of the standard discharges," said Francis.
Unlike the explosive growth in product categories like lymphedema pumps and lift chairs once upon a time, no one fears a crackdown on sleep. You can't argue with the very obvious needs of a 450-pound patient, say vendors.