Bariatrics remains 'vital' HME segment

Friday, February 20, 2015

What was once a niche market years ago is now a full-fledged category unto itself.

The bariatrics specialty has great relevance for home medical equipment because of its versatility—it applies to several business lines, including wheelchairs and other mobility equipment, bath safety products, hospital beds, ramps, hoists, lifts and transfer benches.

With obesity continuing unabated in the population, the demand for sturdier products with wider dimensions and higher weight capacities is strong with no let-up in sight, manufacturers say.

“There are many individuals who require bariatric-sized equipment and that trend is continuing,” says Jay Doherty, East Coast senior clinical education manager for Exeter, Pa.-based Quantum Rehab.

“Based on disability-related weight gain and the aging population with weight-related conditions, the bariatric market remains a vital segment,” he said.

With continued growth in the obese population, HME manufacturers are developing products aimed at helping those with weight problems, said Pat O’Brien, director of marketing and merchandising for Old Forge, Pa.-based Golden Technologies.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t reached a point where the bariatric market is declining,” she said. “Obesity is one of the most serious health issues in the country for the past couple of decades. Despite the fitness movement and an abundance of ‘quick fix’ diet supplements, most Americans don’t exercise enough, eat the right foods or get the proper amount of sleep to maintain a healthy lifestyle and healthy weight.”

In assessing the state of the market, bariatrics has grown commensurate with the incidence of obesity in the U.S. population, says Hymie Poger, product manager for Lebanon, Tenn.-based Permobil.

“Bariatrics has grown well beyond being a niche,” he said. “It is now its own market with a specific focus, when not long ago the population was underserved with mobility.”

Product focus

In considering their bariatric product lines, manufacturers are focusing on form, function, aesthetics and durability.

“We’ve learned that ‘bariatric’ shouldn’t equate to low performance or reduced styling in power wheelchairs,” Doherty said. “We’ve seen the performance and aesthetics of bariatric power mobility products dramatically improve over the past year. We don’t merely strengthen standard products, but engineer them from scratch for bariatric-specific applications.”

To address the challenge of adequate foot support, Quantum has engineered a transfer that allows non-ambulatory patients to transfer with proper foot support while they are seated.

“Some individuals are still performing stand pivot transfers—they cannot ambulate but transfer with their feet on the floor,” he said. “This transfer enables them to move that foot support out of the way for the transfer, allowing them to remain independent at home.”

Derek Lampert, vice president of homecare sales for Port Washington, N.Y.-based Drive Medical, says the company is focused on creating a line of bariatric products that appeal to the public’s sensibilities. Among its recent offerings are high-end battery-operated bath lifts and a heavy-duty version of the Nitro Rollator. 

“Consumers want choice, style, benefits and features and it’s no different with bariatrics,” he said. “People want products that are less institutional looking and more focused on form and function.”

Permobil’s M300 Corpus HD heavy duty power chair has sold well because it doesn’t look like a bariatric model at all, Poger said.

“The success is due to how it looks—it doesn’t look huge, even though the weight capacity is 450 pounds,” he said. “It is also therapeutic because it elevates, fully reclines and tilts to prevent pressure ulcers, provide pain relief and alleviating edema.”

Educating clients

The most effective way to build a successful bariatric business is to establish an expertise and reputation in the category, becoming proficient in equipment and specialty services, along with offering education to referral sources and clients, manufacturers say.

“The most important aspect is to have knowledge of the equipment that this population may need and understand the funding system so that the equipment can be attained,” Doherty said. “Providers should make sure they know what limitations and restrictions certain products have so clients can make the most informed decision.”

Educating clients is paramount for bariatric products, Lampert adds, because they need to know how the equipment can help them.

“They are consumers as well as patients—they typically have an extremely limited awareness of what products can enhance their comfort, safety and independence,” he said. “It’s a complete disservice to provide only what they qualify for—times have changed and consumers will go out looking for solutions they need, but will often end up with equipment that isn’t congruent with their plan of care. It’s providers’ obligation to teach and allow the consumer to be integrated in the equipment decision process.” HME