It’s been almost five years since Mobility Management did its last allinclusive readers’ survey in the spring of 2011. That was a big news year around the world. United States military forces killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It was the year of Arab Spring, and the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. The Muscular Dystrophy Association hosted its first Labor Day Telethon without Jerry Lewis as host in more than 40 years, the U.S. military officially ended its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding sexual orientation, Occupy Wall Street began in September, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died, and a monster tsunami struck Japan.
In the industry, 2011 topics included the anticipated beginning of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) competitive bidding program for DME, and the elimination of the first-month purchase option for standard power chairs. Later in the year, CMS announced its plans to begin a power mobility device (PMD) demonstration project — with both prepayment and prior authorization phases — in seven states with high usage.
Fast forward to 2016. That PMD demonstration project has expanded (to 19 states) and lengthened (now ending in August 2018), and is considered one of the few funding-related success stories to be tied to CMS in recent years. There’s no such good news on the competitive bidding front. Despite multiple Congressional bills on that subject, multiple economics experts weighing in against it, and increasing numbers of members of Congress concerned with its flaws, CMS’s controversial program continues and grows. Late last year, competitive bidding even managed to wrap its tentacles around the pricing of accessories used on complex rehab wheelchairs — a product category that has been legislatively excluded from the program.
A lot has changed since the last time we asked our readers what they were up to — and what they wanted to see more of from industry manufacturers as well as Mobility Management. Here are the results of our 2016 survey, including “write-in” comments seen in the speech bubbles throughout the story. Thank you to all who participated: Your feedback makes all the difference.
Who Answered Our Survey?
We advertised our survey via social media, our eMobility newsletter, and an e-mail campaign to Mobility Management subscribers. So who answered the call? We asked survey participants to describe themselves by position, and not surprisingly given Mobility Management’s seating & wheeled mobility editorial focus, the largest segment of respondents said they are affiliated with rehab technology suppliers. Among respondents who didn’t fall into one of the supplied categories: rehabilitation engineers, nurses, pharmacists who carry mobility equipment, and professional educators.
We also asked respondents to identify the certifications, credentials and degrees they personally have. As we expected, the most common response was Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) at 50.36%. Clinicians (occupational or physical therapists) made up a combined 28% of respondents, and 10% of respondents had both the ATP and the Seating & Mobility Specialist (SMS) credential. Additional credentials held by respondents include Respiratory Therapist, Physical Therapy Assistant, Vocational Rehab Licensed Professional Counselor, and Registered Nurse.
Where Do You Work?
We also wanted to know about our respondents’ places of business. Were our survey participants from large national providerships? From smaller, independent ones? And how many worked in academia or in clinical settings?
While national provider acquisitions have made the news over and over again in recent years, the largest number of respondents to our survey indicated they have one location. And 75% said they have five or fewer locations.
Almost three of every 10 respondents work in a clinical or educational setting.
What Types of Technology Do You Recommend or Sell?
Then it was time to get to the heart of the matter: the types of technology that our respondents either recommend/prescribe (as clinicians) or build/sell (as providers). Because we realize that even hardcore complex rehab technology providers sell a range of products, we cast a wide net when asking about technology. Technology in the “Other” category included adaptive computer hardware and software; assistive technology for people who are deaf or have hearing impairments; assistive technology for people who are blind or have low vision; walking aids, such as walkers and rollators; breast pumps; hospital beds and therapeutic support surfaces; and adaptive car seats.
For this chart, seating & positioning includes components such as wheelchair seat cushions, backrests and head positioning. Power chair electronics includes alternative driving controls, such as head arrays and switch systems. Accessibility equipment includes patient lifts and vehicle ramps.
Seating & positioning products finished atop the list, with eight of 10 respondents recommending or selling that technology. But the overall results suggest that most respondents work with a wide range of products — not just complex rehab seating systems, seating components and mobility bases, but also consumer-level mobility and the ancillary accessibility equipment needed by clients who use wheelchairs.
What Technology Are You Most Interested In?
Evolving technology fuels the seating & wheeled mobility specialty, as clinicians and ATPs are constantly on the lookout for ways to better support their clients’ needs. Among new or emerging technologies, which are the most interesting to the professionals of the industry? We asked respondents to rate several product types on a scale from 1 (“Not interested at all”) to 5 (“Extremely interested”) to see what they’re most excited about. Alternative driving controls for power chairs include new forms of switch and proportional systems. Compliance and monitoring tools include systems to track proper client usage and compliance (e.g., ROHO’s Smart Check and Permobil’s Virtual Seating Coach). New forms of tilt include anterior and lateral tilt in powered seating systems. Dynamic seating includes systems and components that allow for movement or on-the-fly adjustments. Use of electronics includes smartphones and tablets used to program and operate power wheelchairs. Ergonomic components include adaptive/high-performance handrims and propulsion systems. The scores in this chart show the averages of all responses.
Then we asked about current technology categories and asked if they’d like to see more choices from manufacturers (score it a 3), fewer choices (score it a 1) or if the current product selection for the category was already sufficient (score it a 2). Caregiver-propelled manual wheelchairs for pediatric clients include stroller-style models. Power positioning includes tilt, recline and elevating legrests, as examples. The scores shown in this chart are the averages of all responses.
Respondents indicated an interest in seeing more of all types of products, and showed the most overall enthusiasm for new alternative driving controls for power chairs, electronics and, of course, seating & positioning.
To wrap up our technology questions, we asked respondents to rank the different ways they receive information about products and how important each resource is (on a scale of 1 to 5, with one being “Not important at all” and 5 being “Most important”). It turns out that respondents value face-to-face interaction as well as the 24/7 nature of product literature and manufacturer Web sites.
How Are We Doing?
To wrap up our survey, we asked how important each type of story was to you, the Mobility Management reader. A score of 1 basically meant “Dump these kinds of stories!”, while 5 meant “Give me a lot more!” Our goal, as always, was to be sure we’re hitting the mark regarding what you want.
The results: New products are the overall king, and positioning is your favorite overall product category, as confirmed by other survey questions. You want more industry news, funding and clinical topics. We hear you. And we can do that.
Disagree with anything you see here? Let Editor Laurie Watanabe know by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling her at (949) 265-1573.