How Complex Rehab Can Connect With Amputee Clients

To learn more about the mobility issues that face people with limb loss, Mobility Management spoke with Rick Bowers, managing editor of Amplitude magazine. Bowers, who has nearly two decades of experience as a writer and editor for amputee-related publications, says Amplitude’s mission is to provide news and resources for amputees on topics ranging from peer support and emotional issues to finances, mobility and active living. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What are the largest challenges that amputees and their families face when it comes to finding mobility products that work for them?

Rick BowerRick Bowers: One problem is that they may start out with a walker, a wheelchair, crutches, or another mobility device that is not ideal for their individual needs and situation. Regardless of why they start out with that type of device, they may continue to use it from then on, even though a different type of device — or more than one device — might serve them better.

Changing to a different device or using more than one device may provide more mobility and help prevent harmful secondary conditions caused by the use of a less-than-ideal device. Each type of mobility device has its pros and cons, and amputees should have the opportunity to choose the devices to maximize the benefits and minimize the disadvantages to their health and lifestyle.

Another major problem is cost, especially for amputees who don’t have insurance that covers the devices they need at a high level. Insurance companies often don’t seem to consider that paying money for the right devices today — even if it is costly — might save them a lot more money in the future. As a result, amputees may be stuck with the device they can afford rather than the devices that will better serve them.

Finally, many companies that produce mobility devices, especially wheelchairs and scooters, don’t seem to see amputees as potential customers, perhaps because they think amputees use prosthetic devices and therefore don’t need other mobility devices. Amplitude surveyed our readers a few years ago and found that while some amputees use wheelchairs or scooters exclusively, a large percentage also use them as secondary devices, even if they already use prostheses. The same seems to be true for crutches, walkers, and other mobility devices.

For example, in our Amplitude’s Guide to Living With Limb Loss, a hip-disarticulation amputee discussed how although he at first decided to use crutches instead of a prosthesis, the crutches began to cause injuries to his hands. As a result, he started using a prosthesis. However, because he can’t handle wearing the prosthesis for more than an hour or two a day because it causes skin and tissue damage, he only wears it a couple of times a week. At other times, he uses a variety of other mobility devices.

Since various devices can benefit amputees, it would be wise for mobility companies to let more amputees know what they have to offer and how their products can help them. It’s an open and underserved market.

Q: Do you find there are certain products and services that have grown in popularity with amputees over the past few years?

Bowers: I think amputees expect to be able to do more than they may have in the past. While they have sometimes been held back by a lack of access to the devices that would make this possible, I believe if they know more about mobility devices that are available to help them get out and enjoy life and they can afford them, many would use these products. I’m thinking especially of the sports and off-road wheelchairs that are available.

Q: How could companies improve their approach when working with people who have experienced limb loss?

Bowers: Manufacturers should realize that amputees could be a great customer base even if they already use prostheses and/or other devices. Amputees can often benefit from using more than one type of mobility device. When they need to go to the bathroom in the night or cook dinner, for example, it may be easier and more convenient for them to use crutches or a wheelchair than to put on their prosthetic legs. When they are going shopping, it may be easier for them to use a wheelchair than their prostheses. Some could benefit from using a wheelchair at work, even though they also have prosthetic legs. They can often use additional devices as secondary devices, and probably would if these companies advertised to them.

Another major way these companies might be able to attract amputees is by having staff members who can help them obtain insurance coverage for their products and help them appeal insurance company rejections. Many prosthetics companies offer this service.

Also: Have these companies done or sponsored any research that shows how their products can benefit amputees in a way that they can be considered medically necessary? Or perhaps they could show that their products would extend the life of amputees’ prosthetic devices. Such studies might make insurance companies more likely to cover their products for amputees.

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2020 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Haley Samsel is the Associate Content Editor of HME Business and Mobility Management.