Vendors make more room for bariatrics

Friday, February 21, 2014

For the HME industry, sales potential in bariatrics is as strong and durable as the products in the category. In fact, manufacturers report that their bariatric business continues to grow in tandem with the nation’s waistlines.

Statistics indicate that the U.S. obesity epidemic shows no sign of slowing down. 27.2% of the population was identified as being obese in 2013—a rate of growth that is on a pace to surpass all average obesity rates since they were first tracked in 2008, said Pat O’Brien, director of marketing and merchandising for Old Forge, Pa.-based Golden Technologies.

In response to a market that demands larger, heavier, thicker and stronger bariatric equipment, Golden is introducing new models, such as the Golden Patriot scooter, with a weight capacity of 400 pounds, to complement the 500-pound capacity Golden Avenger, which has been in production for several years. Moreover, the company’s lift chair line is designed to accommodate a wide range of sizes with seat widths from 23 inches to 33 inches and weight capacities of 500 pounds and 700 pounds.

Like many manufacturers, Atlanta-based Graham-Field is increasing weight capacities, width and breadth of their product lines, such as the new E&J Traveler Wheelchair with a wider, deeper seat combined with higher weight capacity. 

To take bariatrics to a new level, Lawrence de la Haba, senior vice president of business development, says Graham-Field is developing specialized products tested to a higher weight capacity, such as therapeutic support surfaces, powered bariatric recliners and long-term care beds with expandable sleep surfaces.

Ramps, vehicle lifts and stair lifts are also being modified to handle bariatric patients and their mobility equipment, said Todd Bick, director of sales for Sarasota, Fla.-based Harmar. For instance, the Pinnacle Stair Lift has been reinforced for 600 pounds and vehicle hoist lifts have a 400-pound capacity.

“Two years ago, we recognized the need for heavy-duty auto lifts and are bringing them to market in all categories,” Bick said. “Our hoist lifts were already at 400 pounds and our Outside and Hybrid auto lift line have been increased to 400 pounds. But we’re not stopping there—we are adding even greater capacity.”

Meeting patients’ needs

Exeter, Pa.-based Quantum Rehab is focusing on developing specific modifications for its obese rehab clients, and one of the most important aspects is adequate foot support, said Jay Doherty, regional manager.

“One of the challenges is foot support that can be moved out of the way for transfers,” he said. “Some individuals of the stature to need this equipment are still performing stand pivot transfers, which means they cannot ambulate but can transfer with their feet on the floor. This transfer allows them to remain independently at home.”

Graham-Field’s de la Haba says that obesity causes health concerns for caregivers as well.

“The people taking care of bariatric patients are also at risk due to the difficulty in caring for and treating this patient population,” he said. “These factors result in an increase in demand for products that are specifically designed for this patient population.”

Among the biggest needs, de la Haba said, are product for people’s most basic requirements—transport, toileting, showering and proper positioning.

“The caregivers also require products that allow them to care for this specialized patient type,” he said. “High weight capacity patient lifts, heavy-duty cushions and mattresses and something as simple as an extra large blood pressure cuff allow caregivers to more safely care for bariatric patients.”

O’Brien agrees that bariatric products should make caregiving easier.

“Having a lift chair that can easily lift someone to the standing position or lower them to the seated position reduces the strain on the knees, hips and heart while reducing back strain for a caregiver who previously would try to physically lift the patient out of the chair,” she said.

Finding clientele

Because obesity typically has a host of co-morbidities, patients are usually under the care of several different clinicians. Therefore, it makes sense for HME providers to seek referrals in a number of places, including medical centers, rehabilitation facilities and post-acute care provider organizations, said Randy Rosen, vice president of training for Port Washington, N.Y.-based Drive Medical.

“Key referral sources include physicians, wound care nurses, hospital discharge planners, home health agencies, hospice agencies, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living communities and social service agencies,” he said. “By matching the patient to the product, HME companies can brand themselves as experts in the bariatric marketplace and bring a value proposition for their customer other than just price with a product.”