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Wheelchair survey seeks to gauge satisfaction

Wheelchair survey seeks to gauge satisfaction ‘As a scientist, I can’t say what the results will be, but as a clinician, I can say I expect there will be dissatisfaction

Mark SchmelerPITTSBURGH – Clinicians, suppliers and manufacturers have a unique opportunity to shape a potential new policy for wheelchair service and funding, says the University of Pittsburgh’s Mark Schmeler. 

In November, the university, in collaboration with other investigators, launched a survey to identify the benefits and shortcomings of existing policy in the United States and around the world. 

“We want to be able to show, when we design our new policy, that we didn’t just make this stuff up,” said Schmeler, a project co-investigator, along with Brad Dicianno, and associate professor/vice-chair for education and training for the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology. “We want it to be based on a review of the science and existing policy and based on a large stakeholder survey.” 

The survey is part of a five-year Disability and Rehabilitation Research Project funded by the federal government to investigate and propose a new policy that better aligns with the needs of wheelchair users, suppliers and payers. As part of the project, investigators have also examined all of the scientific literature on wheelchair policy, of which “there is not a lot out there,” Schmeler says. 

The 20 questions in the survey ask stakeholders for their opinion on everything from the complexity of the process to access to proper equipment to the ease of repairs/maintenance. 

“We want to gauge overall satisfaction,” Schmeler said. “As a scientist, I can’t say what the results will be, but as a clinician, I can say I expect there will be a lot of dissatisfaction, though it might vary from state to state or from diagnosis to diagnosis.” 

The project is investigatory, Schmeler says, meaning it won’t necessarily result in a new policy being implemented, but it’s a necessary step toward that goal. 

“We’re not guaranteeing a cure for the disease at the end of the project,” he said. “But we’re going in the direction of what a cure could look like. After this, we plan to do something similar with other funding to do implementation science, which is a fancy way of saying, I’m putting my findings into practice.” 

Schmeler expects a new policy will, ultimately, reflect larger trends in health care that include pay-for-performance, or what he calls, “rewarding people for good practices.” 

“A new policy could mean the supplier gets a monthly fee for the type of equipment they’re providing for the type of person they’re supplying it to,” he said. “It’s bumper to bumper – they need to keep track of the equipment and person, and if their outcomes are really good, they’re going to get a bonus. Repair/maintenance and monitoring will be a big part of it. It would be a drastic change.” 


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