Who will fix the iBOT chair?

Thursday, October 31, 2002

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Although most people in the rehab industry have been focusing on sales when speculating how the iBOT stair-climbing/standing power chair will fit into the DME world (see article on Page 1), another S-word may be just as critical: Service.

"There may indeed be a place for a standing and stair-climbing chair like this, but that means a lot of moving parts," noted Tim Barrett, operations manager at Rehab Design in Louisville, Ky. "One of the problems with even just standing chairs of the past is the sheer number of parts."

And as Barrett said, the iBOT is miles beyond those older products in terms of features and the number of parts needed to make them work.

"One thing potential users will have to consider is whether they want to risk being stuck in a standing position or stuck halfway up or down a staircase," Barrett said. "The iBOT isn't likely to break down all the time, but no machine is perfect."

And when that happens, where will users go? Bob Guoy, president of United Seating & Mobility in St. Louis, suggests that Johnson & Johnson and its iBOT subsidiary Independence Technology will need to have a very advanced service system in place.

"It's not a huge issue right now, as it's not even certain who will distribute the chair or if J&J will sell direct to the consumer," Guoy said. "But it's an issue that has to be addressed. The average rehab/mobility provider isn't going to be able to fix this."

In fact, not even the big players who handle high-end chairs are likely to have the necessary repair skills for some time, Barrett said.

"This is going to be quite a steep learning curve for service techs," he said, "and it's going to be hard from the standpoint of most DMEs to justify getting people trained for something so advanced that it might end up being strictly a niche item." HME