Bariatrics: Providers must raise awareness

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The obesity epidemic continues to expand the market for bariatric products, and manufacturers don't see that slowing down anytime soon. Through effective promotion and education, awareness is growing and fueling demand for larger, stronger and heavier-duty versions of DME.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that in 2008, the prevalence of obesity was 32% for men and 35% for women. The size of this demographic has gotten manufacturers' attention and they are responding.

Cy Corgan, national sales director of retail mobility for Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility Products, says, "We recognize the needs of this growing segment and that is why we have focused on it."

Keven Crawford, executive vice president of marketing for Green Lane, Pa.-based Freedom Sciences, adds: "There is no question that over the years we have seen more and more requests come in for higher-lifting capacities for auto-mobility seating systems, as well as our scooter and power wheelchair lifts."

George, Iowa-based Ranger All-Season has offered bariatric versions of its products for more than 25 years, but it is now in the process of seeking and hiring more sales organizations for currently underserved areas of the country, said Jeff Hollander, sales and marketing director.

"There is an ongoing demand for bariatric products to ease the life of and to provide mobility to these bariatric patients, who will require stronger, heavier equipment to satisfy their needs and goals," he said.

Spreading the word

Promotional efforts to raise public awareness about bariatric equipment options have helped drive demand from consumers and referral sources, as well as HME providers, manufacturers say.

"Individual caregivers are certainly more aware, which is significant because they play a critical role in searching out products for the person they are caring for," Corgan said. "We're going to providers and referral sources and letting them know, through direct contact, about these products. In turn, they are educating consumers through their promotional materials. Referrals are coming to providers wanting it and providers are responding."

Still, Steve Cotter, president of Bryan, Ohio-based Gendron believes consumers aren't as aware of the bariatric option as they should be because "they rarely purchase this equipment directly. Their awareness doesn't occur until the need is immediate."

Gendron's main promotional focus is on referral sources and to reach them, the company exhibits at a number of trade shows for nurses, caregivers and clinicians to make them aware of the scope and type of bariatric products available, Cotter said.

Hollander agrees that the awareness level among consumers needs to be higher and that HME providers are the main source of information for the public.

"It is incumbent upon the HME dealer to consider advertising to let consumers know what benefits these products can deliver and where to go to see these products," he said.

Provider orders up

Provider interest in bariatric products is definitely on the rise and it is translating into more sales, Hollander said.

"An increasing number of HME dealers are putting a heavy-duty Ranger scooter on their showroom floors so that when a bariatric client visits their location, they can test drive an appropriate device on-the-spot," he said. "This increases the probability that a sale can be made at that time rather than having the client go elsewhere."

Each year, Old Forge, Pa.-based Golden Technologies sees "more and more orders for lift chairs, scooters and power chairs in the bariatric category," notes Patricia O'Brien, director of marketing. Moreover, "we're finding that more dealers are keeping bariatric products on their showroom floors for their customers to evaluate rather than ordering them on an as-needed basis at the customer's request," she said.

Port Washington, N.Y.-based Drive has grown its bariatric product line to include a complete portfolio, including mobility, bath safety, commodes, beds and sleep surfaces, said Ed Link, vice president of marketing. As a result, "we have created a dedicated bariatric catalogue for use by providers to make accessing the product portfolio easy," he said.

Product development

The bariatrics category has matured to the point now where manufacturers are getting more specialized in designing and engineering the products. Instead of just reinforcing standard versions, they are developing models especially for the bariatric user.

"Because this is a growing market segment, we've taken advancements from our core products and put them into bariatric models," said Jill Kolczynski, product manager for Pride's Quantum Rehab division. "We are thinking upfront in product development so that they provide more function and performance along with increased serviceability."

Crawford explains that the Freedom Sciences design team is increasing lift capacities, as well as making platform design adjustments, to accommodate the larger wheelchairs.

"It's important to understand that our ability to increase lifting capacities is in direct relationship to the vehicle type and available door opening space," he said. "In the area of bariatric wheelchair transport and its connection to the vehicle, it's very important that we are consulted as to the most accommodating vehicles for these heavier and larger wheelchairs."