Raising the bar

Friday, January 31, 2003

Permobil lays out new standards
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Permobil is giving its rehab provider customer base one year to meet a new set of supplier standards. Those who fail to meet the standards will no longer be able to sell Permobil products.

Starting March 1, 2004, Permobil dealers must:

- Have a physical location in the state in which they’re selling the company’s products;

- Service those products;

- Have a professional on staff who is a rehab technology supplier (RTS) or an assistive technology supplier (ATS), or a professional with two years of experience

-Keep a database of Permobil customers.

Last October, Permobil made headlines when it announced plans to restrict sales of its products to only those companies that employed CRTSs. CRTSs are members of NRRTS who’ve passed RESNA’s assistive technology supplier (ATS) exam.

Some rehab providers are disappointed that Permobil didn’t come up to bat swinging for the fences, referring to the standards as “watered down.”

But Permobil’s marketing manager, Barry Steelman said the four standards are a starting point, and that the company plans to add more standards in the future, including a requirement that providers be CRTSs.

“This is a work in progress,” he said. “We couldn’t start with our ultimate goal. We haven’t softened our position; we’re just being realistic. We need to give dealers time. This hasn’t been done before.”

Still, some high-end providers don’t believe the standards go far enough, and they’re troubled by the RTS designation.

“Just about anyone can call themselves an RTS,” said one provider.

Gary Gilberti, president of the Baltimore-based Chesapeake Rehab, said he, too, would have liked to have seen more stringent standards, but these are a good start.

“We’re 100% supportive of Permobil,” he said. “At least they’re attempting to control the quality [of their dealer base].”

Gilberti also said the rehab accreditation program currently being developed by RESNA might pick up where Permobil has left off. Gilberti, a member of the Rehab Assistive Technology Council (RATC), which selected RESNA to develop the program, said more stringent standards, such as requiring a CRTS or ATS, are being considered.

Admittedly, Permobil, as a manufacturer of high-end products that already cater to high-end dealers, isn’t risking any significant erosion of its customer base.

“We rely on our reps to pick good dealers in the first place,” Steelman said.

But if Permobil were to sever ties with a dealer, Darren Jernigan, Permobil’s director of government affairs, said it would most likely be a dealer who does only one or two Permobil wheelchairs a year.

Providers say the majority of Permobil’s dealers do only a few wheelchairs a year.

“There are a lot of us doing a little Permobil,” said a provider. “There’s not anyone doing a lot of it. I only do about 10 Permobil wheelchairs a year, and I’m a larger dealer.”

Providers said they were also concerned with the standard that requires they have a customer database. They said they would be wary of turning over that information to any manufacturer for fear that they’d use the information to go direct.

For now, a dealer is only required to keep a database, not to turn it over, Steelman said.

“We’re aware of the concerns dealers have, but the company wouldn’t be going to the trouble of certifying its dealers if it had intentions of going direct,” he said. “Mostly, we want dealers to keep a database in case of a recall.”

Steelman said Permobil hasn’t established a “monitoring system” for the standards yet, but it will rely on its reps to make sure dealers meet the standards. HME