Show referral sources how PWCs fit patient needs

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Lost in all the controversy over the proper assessment, funding and therapeutic purpose of power wheelchairs in the consumer marketplace is the fact that these products serve a legitimate need for mobility-challenged seniors, manufacturers contend. Therefore, they say, it is incumbent upon DME providers more than ever to educate their referral sources about the value that power chairs can bring to a specific segment of the senior population.
"Dealers are our evangelists," said Rick Michael, vice president of Angola, Ind.-based Innovations in Motion. "It is their job to spread the word about these products. Knowledge is power. People can't ask for something they don't know about."
Parent company Vestil Manufacturing specializes in outdoor power chairs, such as the Extreme 4x4 and Frontier, designed for "people who want to live their lives," Michael said. The chairs' all-terrain capabilities give users access to the wide-open spaces while diminishing reliance on caregivers' help, he said.
Occupational therapists have been especially amenable to learning about these chairs, Michael said, because they typically have a keen understanding of their patients' abilities, limitations and lifestyles. One Missouri rehab facility in particular has referred a high volume of patients for the outdoor chairs, he said.
"[The OT] found our product worked for her patients' lifestyles better than others," he said.
Rehab center clinicians are by and large receptive to hearing about new mobility technology and practical applications for power chairs, added Ted Raquet, vice president of sales for power chairs at Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility.
"They need to understand where this product fits in," he said. "A physician may see a patient who has a tough time ambulating but doesn't qualify for funding; yet XYZ Mobility has a new line of products that meets their needs."
It is imperative that providers find the clinic liaisons and establish relations with them because they typically recommend products and services to the entire group, Raquet said.
"This can be a nurse, physician assistant or office manager -- it varies from group to group," he said. "Get in front of them and explain the unique advantages of your company so that they can convey that message to the rest of the team."
Mark Sullivan, vice president of rehab for Elyria, Ohio-based Invacare, added that the quality of information supplied by the provider directly relates to its service component. Conducting product demos, joint patient evaluations and offering funding expertise all boost the company's image as a premier mobility resource, he said.
Clinical referral sources aside, the leaders at Kansas City-based Burke/Leisure-Lift said consumers themselves should not be overlooked, and among the best places to find them are assisted living centers.
"The new untapped referral sources are the old ones people have been ignoring," said product manager Jim Ernst. "It's a consumer product, so go to the consumer."
More than ever, the power chair has become a retail product in the same vein as the scooter. Where the power chair's growth can be attributed to previous insurance allowances, its future depends on cash sales, vendors say. Changing attitudes from the public about purchasing necessary mobility equipment should serve as a catalyst, Sullivan said.
"We're seeing less of an entitlement mentality and a lot more discretionary income out there," he said. "In terms of inflation, [power chairs] aren't as much as they used to be and as even lower-priced models come out, there should be even more interest."
Consumers who may once have qualified for a free power chair are now the ideal candidates for cash purchases of models like Invacare's At'm, Sullivan said.
"The At'm is designed for those who want a portable, light weight, light duty chair and is perfect for those who want to pay cash," he said. "It is more portable than some scooters. Invacare believes this is the future of travel mobility."
Thorough assessment is necessary to determine whether a power chair is a customer's best purchase option, added Cy Corgan, Pride's national sales manager for retail mobility.
"Ask them about their daily living routines, their ability to [go] in, out and around the residence," he said. "You may find out that a scooter is actually best. Once you find out about each person's situation, you can turn the sale into a complete mobility program with ramp and lift sales as well."
Like Invacare, Pride is also "excited about this side of the business," Corgan said. The company has designed its Go chair especially for the consumer market, emphasizing the model's portability, maneuverability and affordability.
"It's a power chair, but it's in our travel vehicle line-up," Raquet said. "It's for those who don't qualify for a power chair, but can't drive a scooter."
Corgan and Raquet declined to identify "the ideal demographic" for the Go chair, contending that its appeal spans generations.
"Its purpose is to help the individual maintain independence, which means it can include younger disabled people all the way to the senior market," Corgan said. "So I don't think you can get that specific. It's a wide range."
Burke/Leisure-Lift has focused on making bariatric versions of standard DME, including power chairs. The company makes bariatric models with four different weight limits - 350 lbs., 450 lbs., 500 lbs. and 650 lbs. That kind of specialty product gives mobility providers an edge over general retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco while furnishing a higher margin, said president DuWayne Kramer.
"What's more, the mobility dealer offers a service component that consumers can't get from general retailers," he added.



Key referral sources: Occupational therapists, physical therapists, neurologists, family practitioners, internal medicine practitioners, spinal cord specialists, stroke rehab facilities, cerebral vascular accident (CVA) centers, specialty hospitals, hospital discharge planners, RNs/LPNs, physician office managers, assisted living facilities, senior community centers, churches, consumer self-referrals.

Referral strategies:
- Find the liaison at rehab centers and group practice clinics; deliver a detailed message about your company's products and services so that it gets disseminated throughout the organization.
- Describe how the consumer power chair fits specific needs for mobility-challenged patients, even though they may not qualify for Medicare or insurance funding.
- Conduct product demos, joint patient evaluations and offer funding expertise to boost your company's image as a premier mobility resource.
- Consider the consumers themselves as referral sources and seek them out at senior community centers, churches and assisted living facilities.

Retail sales strategies:
- Conduct a thorough patient assessment, covering daily living routines, residence accessibility and degree of independence.
- Promote the power chair as a mobility solution and scooter alternative. Emphasize the product's portability, maneuverability and affordability.
- Look at how to convert a power chair sale into a complete mobility package, with ramp and lift installment.
- Consider carrying specialty chairs, such as those designed for bariatric patients.