Bariatrics is more than a niche market
American obesity rates and the need for larger, higher durability products has transformed bariatrics from a niche market into the HME mainstream, vendors say. And providers who offer a bariatric inventory that spans the mobility, respiratory and bath safety categories should be well positioned to serve an increasingly important patient base.
“Providers are understanding that bariatric products need to be part of the overall inventory and not a self-contained category,” said Kenric Griffin, vice president of product development for Carrollton, Texas-based Dalton Medical. “It is no longer a niche
Dalton has bariatric versions for a long line of products, including single-tipped canes, quad canes, walkers, rollators, beds, commodes and power chairs. That extensive breadth squarely places bariatrics within mobility and those products should be considered part of the category instead of its own niche, Griffin said.
“Bariatric patients will have a need for virtually all of those products at some point as their weight issues progress,” he said. “The same patient may graduate from a single-tipped cane to a quad to a walker and then a rollator. It is up to the provider to furnish all of those products for that patient.”
The bariatric category doesn’t just exist within mobility, either—it touches every category that is a co-morbidity of obesity, including diabetes, COPD, sleep apnea and congestive heart failure.
“All of these categories are part of the bariatrics business,” Griffin said.
BODY SHAPE FACTOR
Another longtime convention of the bariatrics market is that the products are only designed for patients who are significantly overweight, when they are applicable for patients of differing heights and body shapes, Griffin said.
“You may have a patient who isn’t severely overweight, but is wide in the hips,” he said. “A patient like that, even if not obese, may be better served with a bariatric wheelchair.”
In fact, Peter Kamman, director of marketing for The Comfort Company in Bozeman, Mont., contends that body shape may be the most important consideration for bariatric patients.
“For example, redundant tissue is common posteriorly, which results in a challenge for providing optimal contact with back support,” he said. “So it’s not only creating a larger back support, but considering how to accommodate the posterior redundant tissue that will interfere with allowing maximum pressure redistribution on the back. This can be done by the back support design or it can be done by the placement of the back on the frame.”
Rounding up referrals
There is an extensive list of referral sources available for providers to contact due to the multitude of co-morbidities associated with obesity. Among them are physicians that specialize in diabetes, sleep medicine, internal medicine, orthopedics and bariatric surgery; nurses in ostomy, urology, orthopedics and wound care; and physical therapists, occupational therapists, dieticians and nutritionists.
These clinical professionals are looking for bariatric providers with an established expertise and reputation in the field, demonstrating proficiency in equipment and specialty services while offering education and empathy to bariatric patients.
Yet while the list of potential bariatric referrals is extensive, Griffin maintains that the key referral source remains the primary care physician.
“Contact the gatekeeper before moving on to all the others,” he said. “The primary care physician has to be educated and involved with the patient and the process before the others enter the picture.”