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Seat elevation study adds evidence to industry’s cause 

Seat elevation study adds evidence to industry’s cause 

Mark SchmelerPITTSBURGH – A new study showing the functional mobility, employment and safety benefits of seat elevation devices is a good example of how large data sets can be used to, hopefully, guide policy and practice, says Mark Schmeler. 

The study, published online in Assistive Technology, the official journal of RESNA, in October, pulled findings from the Functional Mobility Assessment tool, which now has more than 13,000 data points.  

“This is the first example our industry has that, ‘Hey, this is what large data sets can do,’” said Schmeler, PhD, OTR/L, ATP, associate professor and vice chair for educating and training in the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology at the University of Pittsburgh. “This is why you should participate in the FMA; this is why you should take it seriously. Data doesn’t come from the scientists – it comes from the practitioners and suppliers.” 

The study showed power wheelchair users with seat elevation devices had statistically significant higher total scores in the FMA tool, higher reach and transfer scores, higher rates of employment and fewer falls than those without the devices. The sample for the study consisted of 1,733 power wheelchair users. 

The reduction in falls, in particular, is a meaningful finding, Schmeler says, with injuries related to falls costing $50 billion a year. 

“That’s an expense that can be mitigated,” he said. “It’s not like a disease that you can’t find the cure for. For a wheelchair user, it’s a seat elevation device.” 

Schmeler says the study and the data it’s based on are an important piece of the puzzle in getting seat elevation devices covered by payers. Medicare is in the process of reconsidering the national coverage determination for mobility assistive equipment to include the technology. 

“We’ve been having much different conversations with politicians and policymakers in the last few months since we’ve had these results,” he said. “Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., has been a big supporter of seat elevation to begin with, but she said at a congressional briefing in September, ‘This is what we need.’ It’s a combination of advocacy and evidence that’s going to make it happen.” 


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