Clinically Speaking

Today's Bariatric Market: Tough But Refined

With one-third of the American population today experiencing clinical obesity, DME providers and manufacturers have innovated new approaches for providing equipment to the bariatric population. This can prove a challenging but vital task given the equipment and funding constraints that accompany the specialized needs of these clients.

When talking with providers across the country about assessing and fitting bariatric clients for heavy-duty power chairs, we have long heard of many different obstacles. Common themes: There isn’t a bariatric model that will accommodate the client’s specific complex rehab seating and positioning needs; the bariatric power chair is too wide to go through doorways in the client’s home; the client doesn’t medically qualify for what’s needed per Medicare guidelines; plus many more logistical and funding challenges. In these cases of the past, the client hasn’t received the equipment that he or she needs to increase independence and overall quality of life.

However, today’s is a different landscape, and as providers, clinicians and manufacturers, we’ve come together to resolve many of these issues to ensure that those with clinical bariatric mobility needs are properly addressed, starting with the design and manufacture of quality, durable, streamlined bariatric products suitable for today’s clients.

Making Up for Lost Time

In complex rehab, bariatric power bases and seating have had a greater emphasis in recent years. As complex rehab technology has evolved, it’s rightfully moved toward clinical bariatric applications, where aspects like pressure management and supportive seating surfaces are of exceptional importance.

However, manufacturers haven’t merely migrated standard weight capacity products upward, but have designed bariatric products from the ground up to meet the population’s specific clinical needs. For example, in creating a bariatric heavy-duty tilt, not only is a larger power actuator used, but every aspect from calf supports to backrest designs to address residual tissue are used. In this way, bariatric mobility products aren’t mere adaptations, but market-specific, highly engineered designs to meet clinical needs.

Bariatric Mobility Emerges

Manufacturers have focused on all aspects of design, from function to form. Indeed, it once was that bariatric mobility products were very utilitarian, built robustly, but with little function or form. Yet bariatric products are now among the most cutting-edge designs, liberating clients to the fullest extent.

Today’s clinically based bariatric power chairs, for example, start out with specially designed components. Ultra high-torque motors, high-weight capacity suspension, reinforced frames, larger batteries and even heavy-duty tires are all standard design criteria in the 450 lbs.-and-above weight-capacity classes, optimizing performance.

Fitting In

Although robustness is essential, attention to minimizing power base size proves essential for environmental access. Whereas a bariatric power base width wasn’t uncommon years ago in the 29" range, it’s very typical today to find coded heavy-duty bases in the 26" width range. As a result, environmental access, from doorways to van ramps, is dramatically improved for clients requiring the 450 lbs.-and-above power chair class.

Looking Good

Aesthetics have been an increasingly important aspect of the bariatric mobility market. Power chair aesthetics evolved over the past decade, and this has likewise crossed into the bariatric market. If there’s a signature look to today’s bariatric power bases, it’s tough but refined. Highly stylized power bases, with curved lines and appealing accents, portray an elegance that clients crave. For many relying on bariatric power bases, they want their power chair to complement them, not call attention to them, and from classy colors to glimmering grilles, bariatric power chairs are now among the most attractive in the market.

Accessorizing Is Key

Beyond power base features and aesthetics, positioning components and accessories are key to bariatric products. While strength and durability are givens, so is component proportion. Endomorph and mesomorph back canes adapt to body-type diversity; heavy-duty armrests provide appropriate weight-bearing support; and appropriately sized lower-extremity support (legrests, footplates, calf supports) create enhanced positioning. Such components, engineered specifically for bariatric applications, don’t just offer appropriate positioning in the immediate, but offer increased product longevity at the higher weight capacities.

Heavy-Duty Complex Rehab

Tissue protection and pressure management are critical in the bariatric market, among the highest-risk populations. Heavy-duty power positioning — including tilt, recline and articulating footplates — are rightfully now a mainstay in the bariatric complex rehab market. From pressure management to addressing circulatory needs, power positioning should be a consideration in clinical evaluations. Additionally, bariatric pressure-management cushions aren’t merely bigger, but off er specific forms and structure to best serve clients in the higher weight-capacity classes.

Ridding Outdated Stigmas

With so much clinically based bariatric mobility technology available today, it’s essential to look at the bariatric population as just that: clinically based.

Those with clinical obesity requiring mobility products often have justifiable complex rehab needs — again, from appropriate power bases to power positioning to pressuremanagement cushions. During the evaluation and fitting process, all underlying causes and related risk factors must be accounted for, fully recognizing the client’s needs. Within that professional approach, a client whose needs may not have been fully addressed in the past can get the most thorough evaluation today.

In meeting the needs of the market, bariatric clients have remarkably liberating, clinically based mobility technology available today. What’s more, the level of care has never been better. When combined, bariatric clients are fit to the most appropriate technology by the most skilled providers. The result is an optimal level of health and quality of life for the client — an ideal outcome that we all seek.

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

John Storie is the director of Quantum field sales for Pride Mobility Products Corp., Exeter, Pa. John can be reached via e-mail at or by calling (800) 800-8586.

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