Technology, accessibility reshape complex rehab

 - 
Friday, February 22, 2019

In the complex world of complex rehab, two true business builders are emerging—digital technology and home accessibility. Embracing new technologies and home modification services both help to solidify bonds with mobility and rehab clients, specialists in the field say.

Technology options are vast and applications have various purposes to foster provider-client relationships and improve the quality of care, says Misty Homen, solutions specialist for power mobility on Elyria, Ohio-based Invacare’s professional affairs and clinical education team.

“With the technological advancements of Bluetooth, smart devices, and wheelchair electronics, technology is not only at the forefront of the minds of the providers but also the clinicians and end users,” she said. “Having a wheelchair with electronics that can now connect to a smart device opens up a whole new world for our end users. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Homen asserts that providers of all sizes are utilizing technology to increase their efficiency as an organization and to better serve their clients.

“Utilizing FaceTime and Skype to quickly see and troubleshoot equipment issues is becoming increasingly popular,” she said. “This allows providers to increase productivity and expand service areas.”

John Storie, vice president of sales for Exeter, Pa.-based Quantum Rehab’s Eastern America region, says the company has launched a new app that provides a direct real-time connection from a power chair’s electronics to a provider’s programming station.

Called Interactive Assist, the new app “provides the technician with a full system and diagnostics information, along with tools, such as a real-time mirror image of the power chair’s electronics display to eliminate wasteful service trips,” Storie said. “The app is saving providers both time and money. With such technology so beneficial to complex rehab providers and consumers, we’ve seen a steady increase in demand by providers as a result.”

Historically, technology has been a slow adoption process in the HME industry for a multitude of reasons. Among the key objections are: time, expense, lack of reimbursement, and lack of technology available in the products they provide. Because some of the technological advancements are still not deemed “medically necessary,” the absence of reimbursement “hinders the speed in which technology is integrated into the lives of our end users,” Homen said.

Yet Barry Steelman, director of marketing for Burnet, Texas-based Stealth Products, says there is more interest than ever from providers in new digital technology because it’s more accessible than ever.

“The easier technology becomes, the better the access for our industry,” he said. “We also have started offering assessment tools using a game format to give real-time information to clinicians and ATPs. This helps improve the assessment process by always having a controlled environment, time management, documented results and unlimited practice time.”

Adding accessibility

Because rehab patients often need home modifications, this is a domain that could be ripe for involvement by HME providers. Based on feedback from market experts, interest is growing. Whether it’s constructing ramps and lifts, widening doorways, installing stair glides or providing electronic support systems, the business is an opportunity providers should consider, said Shawn Krupicka, sales manager for Fairbury, Neb.-based Prairie View Industries.

“If they aren’t getting into it, they definitely should,” he said. “Otherwise they are missing the mark.”

Rehab providers have long overlooked the home accessibility business, which has more synergy with rehab and mobility than providers may realize, Krupicka said.

“I often hear of providers who deliver a power chair or scooter, use a ramp to take it out of the van and use the same ramp to access the client’s home,” he said. “Then they drop it off and leave without thinking about how that client will leave the house.”

Most of the time, scooter or powerchair clients are going to need a ramp to get them in and out of the house, and “offering home accessibility is just the logical step to take to completely help those in need,” Krupicka said.

Likewise, electronic fixtures can help clients navigate their homes while providing valuable automatic services like turning on lights, controlling the thermostat and operating the home security system, said Invacare solutions specialist Steve Adams.

“Technology such as Alexa, Google Home and Apple Home Kit are just a few examples of everyday household names that have transformed life for us all,” he said. “These systems are affordable and can be controlled from the comfort of a wheelchair or couch.”