Creating Better Complex Rehab Case Outcomes

The Need for a Consumer-Centric Approach

Mark E. SmithImagine knowing nothing about coff ee, and gazing at the menu filling an entire wall of a gourmet coffee shop: a lingo that you don’t recognize. But, alas, the “barista” assures you not to worry, as he knows exactly what you’ll like. Th e barista works a few machines, fills a cup, adds a dash of this and a dot of that, then hands you the cup for you to sip whatever is whipped up inside.

Now, how comfortable are you taking a sip, and are you truly convinced that this stranger knows exactly what you like best?

Of course, little is lost on a cinnamon dolce latte if it’s not to your liking. However, on a far more consequential note, imagine going through a similar process with a complex rehab product, where you’re new to disability, encountering a lingo and technology you’ve never known, being moved through a protocol that no one has explained to you, with virtual strangers delivering equipment that you know nothing about.

Indeed, you would be frustrated at best, frightened at worst, and it’s all on top of the many other natural emotions that surround coming to terms with having a disability in the first place.

For many who are newly injured or needing their first complex rehab product, such a scenario is very real, where consumers have little to no knowledge of protocols, products, and services. And make no mistake, it can be emotionally harrowing. For this reason, the “intake” process should be far more consumer-centric than we’ve historically known, where it should focus not just on the prescription, but also on the person.

If there’s a single, all-encompassing statement that can be made about serving those with complex rehab needs, it’s that an informed consumer is a satisfied consumer, namely because they feel part of the process, with a vital sense of control. And how we, as professionals in the complex rehab field, approach consumers from first contact can not only create better rapport, but also optimal case outcomes.

People First, Then Product

From the start, the clinician or provider should take a few minutes to familiarize themselves with the consumer, on a true person-to-person basis. This is a step too often left out of the traditional “medical model” that DME/HME placement has been built on. As I like to say, “People first, then product.” These important few minutes of getting to know a consumer helps increase the consumer’s comfort in entering the process. He or she feels like someone truly cares beyond a prescription. This conversation usually also provides details that the clinician or provider can later apply to the formal assessment.

A Little Light Shines a Long Way

Next, the clinician or provider should briefly summarize the steps involved in the complex rehab technology process, shedding light on aspects like the assessment, product selection, funding protocols, fitting, and final delivery.

Again, many new consumers know nothing about the process of obtaining complex rehab products, so simply educating them up front about the systematic approach that’s used can decrease their stress and avoid confusion or frustrations. Anxiety always revolves around the unknown, so when a consumer knows what to expect, he or she will be far more understanding of the clinician’s or provider’s efforts and timelines during the ongoing process.

Personal Decisions Equal Consumer Satisfaction

Of course, the consumer should be the center of the product selection stage. Even with funding constraints and limited product selection, the consumer should be involved in the decision-making process. A common theme that I hear from disgruntled consumers is “I didn’t know what I was getting.”

Going back to my coff ee example, if you make your own informed decisions, you’re more likely to enjoy what’s in your cup than if someone picks it for you.

Th erefore, whenever there’s a choice that the consumer can make, he or she should be involved in that process. Sure, it may be initially more time consuming to have a consumer demo three K0005 folding ultralightweight manual wheelchairs, for example, instead of being “prescribed” a particular model. However, when the consumer makes a choice, that decision leads to greater satisfaction over the life of the product. A conscientious clinician or provider who expends a little extra time partnering in decisions up front with a consumer can prevent a lot of aft er-delivery issues revolving around product dissatisfaction.

The Value of a Partnership

Indeed, protocols toward addressing consumers’ needs for complex rehab products have long been based on a medical model of professionals prescribing products, where many “patients” have had little to no understanding or input in the process. As we’ve seen in recent years with a lack of consumer advocacy against funding cuts, consumers haven’t historically felt part of the complex rehab technology process. This originated via their initial experiences in obtaining complex rehab products, an experience full of apprehension.

In moving forward, clinicians and providers should partner with consumers throughout the process by serving more as guides and less as prescribers, putting people before products, educating consumers about the process, and by partnering with consumers toward decisions.

Consumers will feel a profoundly increased comfort level and a sense of dignity in the process that will not only lead to overall consumer satisfaction, but also toward clinicians and providers achieving better outcomes in whole. Most importantly, by focusing on a consumer-centric approach, providers and clinicians can create a true partner in the complex rehab process. Th is partnership will ideally extend in support from beyond clinics and showrooms to Capitol Hill, where professionals and consumers can both move forward with an inspired shared stake in the vital use and funding of complex rehab technology.

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Mark E. Smith is the General Manager for Pride Mobility Products Corp., and can be reached at 800-800-8586, or via email at

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