Researchers call for re-evaluating wheelchair policies

Thursday, May 3, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Recent changes in Medicare reimbursement policy, including competitive bidding, may be contributing to a sharp increase in the number of wheelchair breakdowns, according to a study released this week.

About 53% of wheelchair users reported one or more breakdowns that required repairs per six-month period from 2006-11, up from 45% from 2004-06, according to the study, which will be published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation in June.

“This paper should serve as a call to re-evaluate and revise current policies and standards testing for wheelchair prescription in the United States,” stated Dr. Michael Boninger of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, who led the study.

Boninger and colleagues analyzed data from an ongoing survey study of more than 700 wheelchair-dependent SCI patients, all of whom used their wheelchairs at least 40 hours per week.

According to the study, the average number of repairs per person also increased: 1.42 in 2006-11 vs. 1.03 in 2004-06. The rate of adverse consequences of breakdowns, such as being stranded, increased as well: 30.5% in 2006-11 vs. 22% in 2004-06.

Other findings of the study: Power wheelchairs, especially those with power seat functions, had more problems than manual wheelchairs; and users whose wheelchairs were funded by Medicare or Medicaid had higher rates of breakdowns and consequences compared to those covered by private insurance or other sources, such as the Department of Veteran Affairs or workers’ compensation.

In addition to reevaluating policies and standards testing, researchers recommend educating wheelchairs users on the importance of routine maintenance, such as replacing cushions, caster wheels and batteries at recommended times.

Read the report here: