Bariatrics shows no signs of slowing down

Monday, February 27, 2012

Obesity has been a health problem in the United States for quite some time and statistics show that it's only getting worse. That has created a growing need for a bariatric-sized medical equipment market--a category that has been gaining weight in the HME industry for a number of years.

Jean Sayre, director of clinical education for Bozeman, Mont.-based The Comfort Company, says obesity, while prevalent, is still not getting the attention it should by the public.

"It is more of an epidemic than most people are realizing," she said. "Not only is it affecting the adult population, but the early childhood, adolescent and geriatric populations at an alarming rate." 

Moreover, Sayre says not enough emphasis is being placed on childhood obesity by manufacturers and HME providers.

"They think about the adult population, but are forgetting the pediatric population," she said. "Most clients in the pediatric market are using Medicaid services and it's a struggle for dealers to provide a product that will grow with the child. Now you throw the obesity into the mix. There is a great need to have preventative services for educating children and parents on proper nutrition and exercise."

Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility Products and Quantum Rehab have developed an extensive line of mobility and rehabilitation products for the bariatric market, say Joe Chesna, national sales director at Pride, and Julie Pello, director of sales at Quantum. Among the products that have bariatric versions are lift chairs, scooters, power chairs, lifts, ramps and rehabilitation equipment.

"We realize the need for providers to serve this important segment and we are doing our best to create products specific to their condition," Chesna said. "It is a rapidly growing industry and it isn't slowing down. We have taken what we know and have incorporated it into our bariatric models."

Natural extension

Serving this client base with bariatric medical equipment is a focus that HME providers can gain with relatively little effort, since larger-sized products are being made for various categories in mobility, beds, bath safety and aids to daily living. 

By adding bariatric versions of products they normally carry, providers can hit the ground running, said Phil Cunningham, business manager for homecare beds at Elyria, Ohio-based Invacare.

"As providers, they have a basic familiarity with the market--the referral sources are essentially the same," he said. "They can start with their established contacts like family physicians, internal medicine practitioners and physical therapists, and expand from there to include bariatric clinics, surgery centers, rehabilitation centers and nutrition specialists."

A bariatric showroom display doesn't have to be elaborate, Cunningham said. It just has "to spark a conversation with bariatric customers."

"It doesn't have to be a major capital spend," Cunningham said. "It just has to be enough to show customers when they come in the store."

Bariatric bathing

Addison, Ill.-based ArjoHuntleigh has been serving the institutional healthcare market for decades, but the bath safety manufacturer has been eyeing the homecare market. 

As part of its bariatric strategy, ArjoHuntleigh is showcasing a line of residential products, including lifts, commodes, benches and shower chairs that provide sound ergonomics, patient comfort and caregiver ease.

"Our products are structured in a way to give patients independence while providing safety, support and dignity," said CEO Phil Croxford. "Ergonomics are a big factor. Our lifestyle design engineers look at how people get around their homes, considering door sizes, access points, floor coverings and ceilings. We design products that easily fit into the environment and allow the caregiver to move the patient with no physical exertion."

Sizing up bariatrics

Pat O'Brien, director of marketing for Old Forge, Pa.-based Golden Technologies, says entering bariatrics is like any new business venture: proper research into the market is critical.

"Providers must understand the market before they enter it," she said. "Talking with local physicians who specialize in treating bariatric patients will help providers understand what products and services are needed by this segment of the population."