UPitt targets consumer input

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Monday, March 27, 2017

PITTSBURGH – If there’s one group of HME consumers that has an ongoing interest in incorporating new technology into their routines, it’s wheelchair users. Too often, however, they don’t get asked what changes they’d like to see in the equipment that plays an integral role in their daily lives.

So says Rory Cooper, associate dean for inclusion and distinguished professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh. That’s why he and some UPitt colleagues launched an online survey, “Identifying Unmet Wheelchair Related Needs and the Future of Mobility Technology.”

“It’s overdue that somebody ask consumers what are some of the high-tech needs that technology could address,” he said recently.  “Look at the world:  Self-driving cars are becoming a reality.  Robotics are becoming more ingrained in society. The changes that automation is causing in our factories. We don’t want to see people with disabilities and the elderly left out of that 

revolution.”

One problem with helping consumers keep up with possible helpful technologies, Cooper said, is that consumers often don’t know what’s available or what’s possible.

“The big driving force is reimbursement,” he said, “and that tends to be low for assistance technology, which stifles innovation. Because of reimbursement levels, insurance providers aren’t driven by trying to provide the best products and services, but by price.”

With those obstacles in mind, Cooper said he and his colleagues designed the survey in part to build consumer awareness.

“For example, we ask about brain-computer interfaces, about self-driving cars and chairs, and about home robotics technology and other forms of automation, some of it web-enabled,” he said.

Moving forward, Cooper said, both clinicians and consumers need to be aware of technological changes in other markets and how they might be tapped for wheelchair users.

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“There needs to be a subset of clinicians and consumers willing to take risks on new and innovative technologies, as well as willing to develop creative financing mechanisms,” he said.