Industry tackles creating support surface standards

Thursday, January 31, 2002

NEW ORLEANS - Industry leaders met here last month to lay the foundation of a three-year project to create a set of standards for support surfaces. The Support Surface Standards Initiative (S3I) would provide uniform terminology, test methods and reporting standards for a set of products that, today, defy definition.

"If you go to Medtrade, and ask manufacturers to define what a low air loss mattress is, you'll hear a different definition every time," said Dikran Tourian, president and CEO of PrimaTech Medical Systems, a support surface manufacturer and S3I working group participant. "We're trying to cut through all the marketing hype that's developed over the past 20 years."

Organized by the New York-based National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (, the working group drew 50 representatives from the ranks of clinicians, researchers and such manufacturers as KCI, Gaymar, Sentech and Huntleigh. The goal of the project does not involve the development of a Consumer Reports-like analysis but a language that will allow providers and consumers of support surfaces to select products that better meet their needs. The standards are also expected to serve as a development guide for manufacturers.

"Most manufacturers do internal testing on a variety of performance characteristics, and these tests differ widely," said Steven Sprigle, a NPUAP board member. "The information exchange is hindered by the different tests. But if you define uniform test methods, then everyone can read them."

For example, some patients need a support surface that allows them to get in and out of bed easily. If the patient sinks too far, getting out can be problematic. Since there are no standards now available, providers have only anecdotal information to go by when making clinical decisions.

The NPUAP says that roughly 6%-8% of all homecare patients are in treatment for pressure ulcers. The overall cost of healing each wound is higher than $10,000.

Ultimately, support surfaces standards will enable providers to judge the efficacy of a support surface over a range of characteristics including pressure redistribution and flammability.

"Informed choice is what this is all about," said Sprigle.

Providers "need to be able to listen to a manufacturer and get what that surface has in five minutes, not five years," said Tourian.

The initiative would provide a framework for analysis that some say is sorely lacking in the home medical equipment industry. (See related article, page 31) It's been almost a decade since oxygen concentrators have been independently evaluated. And there are few standards by which providers are able to judge equipment.

The development of such standards does not come cheap. The NPUAP is raising $400,000 to fund S3I; in 10 months, they've raised $44,000. HME