Event Coverage

Teamwork, Technology, Evidence Top 2006 RESNA Conference Agenda

ATLANTA — While few in the mobility industry would compare their accomplishments to the life and times of Mattel's Paralympic Champion Becky doll in the Barbie series, Mark Johnson, executive director of the Shepherd Center, Atlanta, made an interesting point at the June 22-26 Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America's (RESNA) annual conference. In his presentation titled "Taking It Personally," Johnson asked the audience to recite the evolution of Becky's names. From "Share-A-Smile Becky" to "School Photographer Becky" to the athletic inspiration she currently embodies, Becky's changing name reflects society's changing attitudes toward people who use wheelchairs, claimed Johnson. But he posed a telling question: Can Becky access Barbie's Dream Home?

The latest innovations in technology to improve the lives of people with disabilities from seat cushions to universal design were on display for more than 800 attendees at the recent show at Atlanta's Hyatt Regency Peachtree. The theme — Thriving in Challenging Times: The Future of Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology — was echoed by more than 100 speakers and presenters.

What's on the minds of conference goers this year? If RERC serves as an example, ongoing research efforts also topped the list of major interests. Projects from universal design, focusing on cognitive abilities of aging seniors and establishing evidence-based guidelines and continuing education; to wheeled mobility seat testing, for tilt, recline and alternating pressure filled almost an entire row in the exhibit hall. RERC on Technology in Aging talked about a smart home with a smart floor that literally asks a person who has fallen if he or she is OK and then alerts caregivers or emergency medical services.

RERC on Spinal Cord Injury is currently working on approximately 50 projects, including studying wheelchair techniques that might contribute to repetitive strain injury, a motivational game cycle that promotes aerobic exercise, and head array systems that detect the position of the hand to make sure both the head and hand are in agreement before moving a chair, said Alicia Koontz, Ph.D., RET, Human Engineering Research Laboratories, in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh Model Center on Spinal Cord Injury.

Lt. Col. Paul Pasquina, M.D., chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C., opened the show with a discussion of injured soldiers returning from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Pasquina says today's soldiers are "surviving injuries they couldn't have survived in prior conflicts." The result is more complicated wounds and thus the need for better technology. Statistics show that 18 percent of injured soldiers at Walter Reed have multiple limb loss and are on average younger than age 34. These statistics show significant implications for the future as these soldiers will live with disabilities for 50-70 years.

Pasquina stressed that teamwork is the only way to deliver comprehensive care — a sentiment echoed by many other presenters.

Indeed teamwork was an underlying message — as noted in the Washington Update by Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Director Thomas Stripling, who encouraged clinicians to team up with those who represent larger issues to present the "big picture" to Washington representatives.

Providing evidence to payors was also an important message. Jean Minkel, a seating & mobility consultant and member of the Program Advisory & Oversight Committee (PAOC), reported that in meetings with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), she hears the "constant drone of 'show us the evidence.' " Since CMS and HCPCS codes "control access to new technology," says Minkel, it's important for clinicians and suppliers to speak up to Washington.

Michelle Lange, OTR, ABDA, ATP, occupational therapist, Access to Independence, and Julianna Arva, pediatric product specialist, Permobil, presented a RESNA positioning paper draft on standers, the second in a series of four that would provide clinical evidence of outcomes for those devices. In theory, these papers can be attached to CMS submissions to justify the need for a particular product. In a separate workshop session on ACC devices, Mark Schmeler, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, Center for Assistive Technology, discussed the importance of these papers. If CMS refuses to accept these papers, said Schmeler, they're basically telling clinicians not to adhere to their codes of practice.

Also in the Washington Update, discussion of the proposed rebate program — outlined under the proposed National Competitive Acquisition Program — drew grunts of disapproval from the crowd as they argued it violated an anti-kickback law. As explained by Minkel, if the winning bid for a particular device is $10, but a provider bid $8, CMS would alert consumers that the low-bidding provider would be able to offer a $2 rebate to the consumer. However, the provider cannot advertise such savings.

Varilite's Dan Eilerman, PT, clinical education specialist, says the recent K codes for adjustable cushions are also a top concern. Effective July 1, these codes significantly reduce allowables.

New technology displayed at the exhibit hall also attracted RESNA conference attendees with booths like Magic Wheels' two-gear wheel that helps users propel uphill, and LC Technologies' Eyegaze Systems and Eye Response Technologies' Erica System that allow users to type using only their eyes. AMS Vans also showed attendees the capabilities of its fully converted pre-owned minivans.

By the way, the answer to the question is no, Becky doesn't have full access to Barbie's Dream Home — at least not yet.

This article originally appeared in the August 2006 issue of Mobility Management.

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