Another Opinion

The Next Chapter: Innovation

As we head toward 2015, a foremost question is Where does the complex rehab industry go from here?

The answer is found in those we serve.

For those with complex rehab needs in the United States — as well as those in many other parts of the globe — life is dramatically different than it was a quarter of a century ago. The Americans with Disabilities Act, to name one aspect, continues opening doors toward full social inclusion. As those within the mobility industry, we have an obligation to constantly strive to understand the evolving client experience and deliver the products and services that allow those with complex rehab needs to lead the most active, independent, successful lives possible.

Defining & Discovering Innovation

Innovation is a term used a lot in our industry. It’s often rightfully applied to literal technology. However, at its purest, innovation derives from the client experience. It’s how we better create, deliver and service complex rehab technology in ways that support the life pursuits of those with disabilities.

When we see a college professor lecturing at a podium from his power chair’s elevated seat, that’s innovation. When we see a third-grader participating on the playground in his ultralight wheelchair, that’s innovation. And when we see an ATP fitting a young mother with a power chair so that she can be as independent as possible in raising her children, that’s innovation. The examples go on and on, but the point is both simple and profound: Innovation in complex rehab technology can’t merely come from technological advancement; rather, it must come from the client experience, the way the technology improves quality of life.

I’m not one with a disability. For me, reaching a coat rack, accessing buildings and maintaining my independence are all but effortless. Yet, through knowing my colleagues, employees and friends with complex rehab needs, I recognize some of the daily challenges faced by many. I recognize that with all of the advancements in today’s world — including within the mobility industry — those among us with complex rehab needs still face environmental access limitations and encounter unjust barriers to full inclusion.

Insurers have focused on literal medical necessity, but that’s only one part of the equation for those with disabilities. All need to realize the importance of the larger scope of quality of life, which means increasing daily living functionality. For example, when it comes to power positioning, tilt is rightfully recognized as a medical necessity, but elevation isn’t recognized by Medicare. We know that an elevating seat dramatically increases quality of life, where one can reach store shelves, retrieve clothes from a closet, sit at a raised restaurant table or simply be seen crossing a street. Insurers and much of society have overlooked these quality-of-life aspects for too long. We must be a voice for justice and an agent for change. Funding constraints are unjust, and we must advocate for those we serve to have utmost daily living functionality beyond the medical model. These realities must continue being the genesis for true innovation in our industry — that is, we must innovate the products and services that truly enhance quality of life and daily living functionality.

In this age of remarkable mainstream technology, our industry is still young compared to others. Yes, we face challenges every day, namely how to manufacture and supply the highest quality of products and services in arguably the toughest funding climate to date. However, we must remain true to the nature of innovation in complex rehab and find ever-increasing ways to use technology as a way to improve the lives of those with disabilities. It’s been inspiring to see how technology has improved areas such as drive controls and power positioning systems. Still, the potential to refine these and so many other areas seems limitless. How can we make mobility products safer? How can we make mobility technology that truly allows users to fully integrate into their environments and communities? These are the types of questions that must fuel our passion for innovation. Let us realize the tremendous need to continue pushing the envelope toward enhancing the client experience and overall quality of life.

Innovations in Other Segments

Innovation also features a team component intended to best serve a client’s complex rehab technology needs. With providers and clinicians on the front lines, manufacturers must continue to likewise listen and innovate the business tools to best ensure their success. I’m reminded of how power chair seating once had little to no adjustability, making it all but impossible to truly fit the client to the technology. Then, adjustability evolved, but was difficult to work with. Today, complex rehab seating is easier to adjust than ever before. As a result, providers and clinicians can not only perform better fittings, but expedite fittings, where such innovations create better client outcomes.

When it comes to complex rehab innovation to enhance the client experience, daily living functionality and quality of life, we can’t overlook our roles in advocacy. Capitol Hill must know of the injustice propagated by the current funding model. How is it that we’ve had the ADA for nearly 25 years to grant civil rights protection and social inclusion for those with disabilities, but Medicare still only funds mobility products based on in-home use? It’s egregious that full social inclusion of those with disabilities is dismissed by the long-running, flawed funding model.

The fact is, as one of my colleagues who relies on complex rehab technology puts it, when we support one who has a disability with the right complex rehab technology, he or she can pursue education, family, community and career. This is not only what everyone wants and deserves, but it also benefits a larger good, where all within our society have true equality. Continuing to advocate for a separate benefit category for complex rehab is one way we must fight the good fight on a large scale to further enhance clients’ daily living functionality and overall quality of life. In this way, we must not only innovate through technology, but also with advocacy efforts.

As we move forward, we face challenges. However, let us take those challenges in stride and remember why we must innovate in all areas of the client experience: to correct funding injustices, increase daily living functionality, and improve the overall quality of life of those we serve.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Scott Meuser is chairman and CEO of Pride Mobility Products Corp./Quantum Rehab, based in Exeter, Pa.

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