The sun rises

Thursday, September 22, 2011

LONGMONT, Colo. - Sunrise Medical is back on the offensive in the power wheelchair market.

Five years ago, when Medicare cut reimbursement for power wheelchairs, Sunrise Medical downsized its product portfolio significantly, eliminating about 15 power mobility devices, including all of those classified Group 1 and Group 2. By the end of its fiscal year on June 30, 2012, however, the manufacturer plans to roll out a handful of new products.

"Because of the funding challenges that the entire industry had to face, we dropped back into a defensive position with just four power wheelchairs," said Dan Critchfield, product manager, power division. "We had to step back and say, 'What are we going to do in power?'"

Between then and now, Sunrise Medical has researched repair needs and costs (the latter ranges from $80 to $200 a call, according to the company), and gone back to the drawing board to manufacture simple and reliable power wheelchairs.

Sunrise Medical first dipped its toe back into the power wheelchair market about two-and-a-half years ago when it introduced the Quickie Pulse6.

"What we did, we put a proven product out in the field and we allowed it to season," Critchfield said. "The cry now is, 'You have a great power chair for Group 3, but we need something more.'"

Levering the technology in the Pulse platform, Sunrise Medical plans in the next nine months to introduce or re-introduce, among other products, a wheelchair base that can do both single- and multi-power; a seat elevator; a heavy-duty wheelchair; and an 8-mph Group 4 wheelchair.

Sunrise Medical also plans to freshen up the products in its existing platform, like its S636 and S646 rear-wheel drive power wheelchairs, with the components on its new products. Those components include a powerful yet quiet motor with a low 1% return rate.

"When we were evaluating the power business, we were hearing from providers that they didn't want the bells and whistles for the sake of it," said Michael Proffitt, vice president of marketing and product management. "They didn't want a level of complexity that would only cause the chair to have a higher failure rate and, ultimately, cause them to have to go out there and do repairs. That's where we saw the opportunity and that's where we started innovating."