Bariatrics market requires ‘all-in’ approach

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Experts in the bariatrics field contend that the category is much more than just heavy-duty equipment for obese patients. It should be more than just a sideline business for HME providers, they say, because there are myriad nuances to consider when providing products and services to this clientele.

The market has been one of HME’s strongest performers in recent years and demographic data suggest that demand for bariatric-grade products will continue to be in high demand.

“Research shows that by 2020, 80% of men and almost seven in 10 women will be overweight or obese,” said Jim Lein, president of Dalton Medical in Farmers Branch, Texas. “It is sad that incidents of stroke and heart disease will dramatically increase and the need for bariatric products, such as extra-wide beds and wheelchairs will increase simultaneously.”

Consequently, Lein sees more HME providers jumping into the bariatric product arena and predicts “the competition for referrals will be fierce as well.”

To be sure, the bariatric market will continue to be strong in 2019, and growth projections are positive, said Jay Brislin, vice president of Exeter, Pa.-based Quantum Rehab.

“The number of individuals requiring mobility equipment within this market segment continues to increase and the ongoing need for new, innovative and technologically advanced products in this category is a main focus for us,” he said. “We feel that product development needs to be more of a direct focus. We need to further evaluate the mobility needs of this specific populations and create products that will meet those needs and offer the highest level of independence.”

The bariatric market segment is continually evolving and deserves increased attention on its characteristics, dynamics and business potential for HME providers, Brislin said.

“We continue to study this market and feel that we need to introduce more technologically advanced offerings,” he said.

Nuanced market

As a long-time veteran of the bariatric market, Burke/Leisure-Lift President DuWayne Kramer says true success in the business requires an “all-in” commitment from HME providers. While some providers may only procure stock products for patients who need them, Kramer says becoming a go-to source in the bariatric market involves more extensive participation.

“They need to go beyond ordering heavy-duty products,” he said. “There are so many different issues that bariatric clients have to deal with and some are pretty complex.”

Leisure-Lift specializes in furnishing products with custom features for clients with extra needs, said Jim Ernst, chief operating officer.

“Each patient is different, so each solution is unique,” he said. “We are among very few companies to have a wood shop, metal shop and upholstery shop under our roof, so we can adapt and customize as needed.”

The key for HME providers who are serious about bariatrics is a deep understanding about what each patient needs based on their physical dimensions, such as weight, shape and size, but also physical anomalies caused by diabetes, phlebitis, or abdominal pannus. It is these clinical assessments by an astute technician that determine the appropriate products, said Jerry Traylor, engineering manager.

“Once I understand the patient’s condition, I can let them know what they need,” he said. “We can explore custom parts on the shelf and put together a package they can view before we build it.”

Reaching referrals

Because obesity is the cause of so many health problems, referral sources are ubiquitous within the healthcare continuum. Hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, rehab facilities and skilled nursing centers are among the many outlets where bariatric patients can be found.

Gaining referrals from the physician, nursing and therapist community depends on their interest in the products available to their patients, Brislin said.

“Quantum is looking to launch several new products—retail and rehab—starting in the middle of 2019 that we feel will get clinicians, clients and providers excited,” he said. “Our complex rehab power line will be adding a new power base to the Group 3 HD category that will have superior driving performance and enhanced suspension at the 450-pound weight capacity and offer all power seating functions.”

Referral sources are constantly looking for new bariatric product offerings that increase client independence and function, so HME providers who promote these products definitely have an advantage, Brislin said.

Providers that have established themselves as complete bariatric services specialists shouldn’t have any trouble reaching the right referral sources, Kramer says, because “once you establish a reputation, word gets around.”