Mobility powers up

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

As the mobility market becomes more technologically advanced and product demand continues to grow with the aging baby boomer generation, the outlook for wheelchair and scooter sales is that it will remain a strong category, offering HME providers a range of opportunities.

Brad Peterson, vice president of professional affairs and clinical education for Invacare, says the Elyria, Ohio-based manufacturer is “heavily focused on GP3 power mobility” and that he sees “continued robust demand for the higher complexity products and emerging offerings within the space.”

The real strength and growth within the mobility market, he says, “are across the board from the less complex GP3 to high complexity, multi-function systems.”

HME companies are looking at how they can most efficiently serve their clients and sometimes that means downscaling to concentrate on one specific segment, said Scott Wells, vice president of national accounts/sales for Fresno, Calif.-based 

Sunrise Medical.

“I would use words like ‘consolidating’ and ‘specializing’ as providers who formerly carried multiple product and service lines are stopping certain lines to be more singularly focused on what they are good at, such as complex rehab, oxygen or retail,” he said. “This is a change from 10 years ago when providers tried to be all things to all people.”

Tom Whelan, vice president of development for Stevens Point, Wis.-based Ki Mobility, says strength and growth in the market resides in specific product niches.

“Take the power assist market with the introduction of the Smart Wheel,” he said. “It disrupted the existing power assist market, both taking share and growing the market. Now we are seeing new competitors entering the market with similar designs.”

New advancements

Power wheelchair electronics are among the biggest advancements in the market, allowing consumers to access personal electronic devices, apps, gaming and connectivity functions more easily than ever before, Peterson said.

“Furthermore, companies such as Apple and Microsoft are focusing on the unique needs of consumers in this space as seen in the Xbox commercials during this year’s Super Bowl and numerous advancements in switch and voice control from Apple,” he said. “New drive controls that use eye gaze and robotic arms that attach to PWCs can also provide independence and access not previously 

available.”

Peterson adds that new manufacturing techniques are also contributing to creating a more sophisticated mobility product line.

“While not as sexy or front-of-mind as new drive controls or electronics, advancements in how complex power chairs are manufactured, sourced and designed can shorten the innovation cycle and make products more accessible to consumers,” he said. “These advancements can also ensure that mobility devices and electronics remain current and interface with consumer technology that is rapidly 

changing.”

Whelan contends that there are two forms of innovation. 

“Simply making a better product can be innovative, and this will result in the more innovative product taking share form older products,” he said. “You can also innovate by finding new solutions to problems that didn’t really exist before.”

Sales and service

As more boomers reach the age and physical condition to need a wheelchair or scooter, they appear to be more receptive to purchasing the products, Peterson said.

“The retail concept appears to be increasing in popularity due to new financing options and programs now available from some providers,” he said. “However, Medicare funding still leads the way with many local and private funding sources, taking their lead from what CMS is doing. On the rehab side, the focus sometimes is on what the quickest method is to reimbursement for the provider rather than pursuing necessary clean denials and the red tape that may come from seeking cash from some beneficiaries.”

Mobility management is a service-intensive business line and providers are recognizing the potential of offering value-added services and components, Peterson said.

“The complete user experience with a PWC extends well beyond initial delivery and can greatly affect long-term functional, physiological and emotional outcomes,” he said. “New technology from many PWC manufacturers provides remote access for the consumer and provider to the overall health of their PWC and can engage consumers in being more proactive stakeholders in the long-term health and performance of their systems.”