Obesity drives bariatric market

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

As has been the case for several years now, America's obesity epidemic continues to warrant the manufacturing of thicker, stronger, heavy-duty medical equipment. This means there is more opportunity than ever for HME providers who want to pursue this specialty market.

Statistics provided by Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility illustrate the extent of the obesity problem: More than one-third of U.S. adults are classified as clinically obese (more than 72 million people) and obesity in adults has reportedly increased by more than 60% in the past 20 years. In 2008, researchers found that 32 states had an obesity prevalence equal to or greater than 25% while six states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 30%. Only one state, Colorado, had a prevalence of obesity less than 20% of its total population.

"As this segment of the population increases, more and more people are turning to mobility products to help them with their activities of daily living," said Cody Verrett, national sales director for Pride's Quantum Rehab division. "The equipment they are using ranges from lift chairs with enhanced weight capacities to complex rehab solutions tailored to meet their special requirements. As the number of bariatric patients continues to increase, we will see an increase in the demand for all types of bariatric specific equipment."

Pride has a wide range of bariatric options throughout its product lines, including its Jazzy series of bariatric power chairs in both standard power and complex rehab configurations. Pride also offers several scooter models with enhanced weight capacities.

Providers need to make bariatric products visible to consumers, said Patricia O'Brien, marketing manager for Old Forge, Pa.-based Golden Technologies.

"It's very important, particularly in the instance of lift chairs and mobility products, that providers have these products on their showroom floors so that the consumer can be properly fitted," she said.

Golden manufactures three models of lift chairs with a 500-pound weight capacity, and a triple motor lift chair with a 700-pound weight capacity, which the company contends is the largest in the industry. It also offers an outdoor scooter with a 500-pound weight capacity and a power chair with a 450-pound weight capacity.

Marsha Medlin, a registered nurse and director of medical products for Ergolet Americas in Minneapolis, is an authority on caregiver safety. She says a hefty increase in obese patients poses a greater danger for home healthcare workers and caregivers, opening the door to another opportunity for providers.

"We have come a long way from the bad old days of adapting engine hoists and trolleys for bariatric patient use, but there is still much to learn to adequately protect caregivers and patients," she said. "With these obesity numbers, there will be more demand, and people understandably want to stay at home as long as possible. Those things add up to more requirements for various types of bariatric equipment for both home and institutional markets. Caregivers need to be protected from manual lifting of all patients--whether bariatric or not."

Ergolet's Luna lift has been enhanced to a capacity rating of 600 pounds. For more obese patients, custom lifts can accommodate up to 1,000 pounds and a "single patient use" sling has a capacity of up to 1,100 pounds.

Stephen O'Hare, vice president of sales for Turnkey Trading Solutions, emphasizes that true bariatric products must be designed to meet the specifications of the market. Marietta, Ga.-based Turnkey represents British manufacturer Gordon Ellis, which O'Hare says addresses bariatrics as a specialty category.

"As in any other industry, more specifications result in a greater cost of manufacturing and a greater cost to the consumer," he said. "There is no point making, marketing, selling or buying a bariatric product cheaply if it falls apart. Not only do consumers end up with something that doesn't meet their needs but also they are at greater risk of injury. Providers should check the specs of the product before selling it to the consumer to ensure it meets their needs."

Gordon Ellis manufactures a raised bariatric toilet seat along with a bariatric bath step, grab bars and a bath bench to help people get into the tub and seat them after they enter.

"I think for a lot of people who are not obese themselves there is little appreciation of how difficult it is for these patients to perform everyday tasks," O'Hare said. "There are many products available and I think many more still yet to be designed and manufactured." hme