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Mobility is navigating the ‘new normal’

Mobility is navigating the ‘new normal’

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly illuminated the value of homecare, emphasizing the importance of keeping patients out of congregate care settings, along with the enhanced benefits of HME products and services. As a result, demand for home medical equipment – especially mobility products – has risen considerably over the past two years, manufacturers say. 

“As more people are choosing to remain at home rather than in a nursing facility, the demand for many products related to home healthcare has expanded,” said Renae Storie, vice president of Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility. “Not only has the demand for things like scooters expanded, but also product categories like recliners with lift, medical beds, ramps for the home and many other mobility and non-mobility devices. Consumers want to remain mobile and navigate not only within their homes; they are also purchasing products to allow them to enjoy life outside of their homes. As a result, travel-related product demand has increased dramatically.” 

After two years of the pandemic, COVID variants persist and remain a danger to the most vulnerable people. For mobility providers and suppliers, it represents a “new normal” for the business environment that has increased visibility of HME’s healthcare role as well as the benefits of durable medical equipment for home-based patients, said Todd Walling, senior vice president of sales at Lebanon, Tenn.-based Permobil. 

“I would say that people are becoming more aware of products available to them and are prioritizing quality, durability, and comfort,” he said. “Similar to the investments people are making with home renovations to improve their space, individuals using complex rehab technologies are making investments in product upgrades to help with their independence and daily activities at home.” 

To be sure, the healthcare community is embracing the shift to independent living from skilled nursing facilities, said Charles Sargeant, chief revenue cycle officer for Franklin, Tenn.-based National Seating and Mobility. 
“We are seeing a surge not only related to the pent-up demand in mobility equipment needs for our clients, but also new demand from individuals who want to live independently at home versus a hospital or skilled environment,” he said. “We believe the independent living trend is here to stay and are hearing from several sources in the industry that the home is the new skilled nursing facility. Mobility product demand will continue to increase as it supports individuals in the home environment.” 

Retail growth 

A heightened interest in the retail side of mobility equipment by consumers is another facet of the new normal, manufacturers contend, especially for products that go beyond what Medicare or private insurance covers. HME providers have an essential role as key influencers in the retail decision-making by understanding what patients want from their equipment said Jeffrey Distasio, senior director of sales at Pride. 

“Consumers continue to drive growth in both retail-only products as well as reimbursable products,” Distasio said. “A vast majority of our providers are well suited to maximize their sales of both categories and work with consumers to find the right solution that meets their medical and lifestyle needs. Our providers are uniquely qualified to understand their consumers and work closely with them to put them in the right products based not only on their physical conditions, but also their environments.” 

This expertise leads to increased satisfaction for the consumer and repeat business and ancillary sales opportunities for our providers, Distasio said, because “in many cases, consumers are willing to pay out of pocket for more innovative mobility products as they continuously adapt to maintain and enhance their lifestyles.” 

Old Forge, Pa.-based Golden Technologies is giving HME providers a retail boost with BuzzAround Scooters and GP162 LiteRider Envy portable power wheelchairs that come in a variety of colors.  

“We find that the retail market is certainly growing with mobility products more tailored to customers who want not only ease of use and portability in a scooter or power wheelchair, but a way to express their individual style as well -- and they are willing to pay out of pocket for it,” said Chris Carroll, director of marketing. 

Golden has also partnered with CareCredit as a customer financing solution to offer customers a funding source outside of Medicare. 

While interest in retail mobility has risen, Walling also points out that not all patients have the option to pay out-of-pocket for products that can improve their quality of life. 

“For those fortunate enough to be able to do so, they are willing to prioritize the quality and features that they want over a strictly cost-based decision,” he said. “Unfortunately, the pandemic has affected others more disproportionately. This reality has also helped to inform the way we look at our current operational setup and future product developments. As a testament to our purpose of ‘Innovating for Individuals,’ we are also committed to utilizing our government affairs team and the Permobil Foundation to help support those with funding challenges get the equipment right for them.” 

Darren Lowman, NSM chief transformation officer, acknowledged that price increases and inflation have impacted operations, especially as it relates to higher raw material costs, fuel costs and wages. 

“The cost to import products and sub-components from offshore has risen to the point where it has stopped being profitable or lucrative for select suppliers to continue providing select products,” he said. “Product lines are being discontinued as a result. This not only limits choice, the associated shift in demand to similar products that remains greatly exceeds capacity, impacting availability and lead time.”  

Walling concedes that supply chain inconsistencies have stubbornly persisted and continue to present a challenge for suppliers. Yet these disruptions have actually strengthened the company’s efforts to deliver much-needed products to clients, he said. 

“We could not be more proud of our teams as they continue to navigate these challenges with equal parts passion and leadership,” Walling said. “Everyone, from our supply chain and production teams to sales and customer experience, are doing great work. Literally everyone in our organization deserves huge kudos for their dedication over these past few months.” 

The tech front 

While the primary focus has been on serving the immediate needs of mobility patients, that doesn’t mean manufacturers are ignoring future product development. This is an area that has been fertile with new ideas, Storie said. 

“Technology is ever-changing and advancing within the power wheelchair and scooter product categories,” she said. “Innovation plays a key role when adding additional features and benefits and developing new products. Therefore, you can expect creativity when it comes to product development over the next several years.” 

This creativity is being driven by consumers’ demand for high quality, innovative products in the scooter and power wheelchair categories. Based on diligent research and consumer feedback, Storie says it has become apparent “the same old same old product portfolio will not fit the needs of the new consumer.” 

As a result, the Pride R&D department has been working to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to product design, product quality, and innovation, she said, adding “We have some exciting new products in progress for 2022 and beyond and we are looking forward to continuing to exceed customer expectations.” 

Likewise, Walling is excited about technological developments coming down the pike at Permobil. 

“We are looking at innovations in materials across the board, including some novel material developments in seating products, and pairing these materials with applications such as advanced sensor technologies. We are also looking to bring advancements in the bicycle, automotive, and other med tech industries into the CRT space.” 

Another major advancement is in software, Walling said: “By continuing to leverage massive amounts of data provided by services like Permobil Connect, we are able to provide better service to our customers and work towards better outcomes for those using our products.”


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