Problem Solver

Entry-Level Auto Access

Tapping into retail sales via auto access without adding the overhead of high-end conversions.

As tighter and tighter Medicare funding forces providers to seek new revenue streams, retail sales has been identified as a key way to drive new cash flow. And one of the most attractiveretail sales items from a revenue standpoint is auto access.

However, auto access can also represent a major cost overhead as well. The higher-end solutions require special tools, workspace, additional equipment, and deep level of product, automotive and mechanical expertise. For many HMEs this can make it seem like the on-ramp into providing auto access is reserved for only providers with a Lamborghinibudget and a Earnhardt skill-set. But that’s not so.

Auto access solutions cover a whole range of solutions for patients, and some offer very easy entry points for providers interested in helping patients take things on the road. And the best place to determine auto access need is at the very start of supporting a mobility patient, says Frank Westby, manager of Business Development for EZ-Access, a division of Homecare Products Inc.

“During the time that you’re helping a mobility patient with their mobility needs the two key questions that often get overlooked are ‘How will you get this out of your vehicle when you get it home?’ and ‘How will you get it in your house?’” Westby explains. “The first step is to identify the need.”

And that is particularly important for new mobility patients who might not have given much thought to the subject. “If it is a new situation, the end users have been used to stepping up and walking up all their lives, so they haven’t given much thought to all the things they will have to step up and walk up that they are now going to have to roll up,” Westby says. “So if we can help them identify that need prior to discovering it, we’re going to have a happier customer.”

Ramping Up

Often the need will be a ramp, Westby says. In fact, ramps offer perhaps the easiest way to break into providing auto access. Usually ramps are used for patients that are traveling with a caregiver who can help them get in and out of the vehicle and that take care of getting the mobility device in and out of the vehicle. Or they can be used for patients with only limited mobility that can be ambulatory for short durations of time and that are capability of setting up the ramp and loading and unloading the device on their own. They typically range from roughly $300 to $650.

Ramps are often used to load and unload a mobility device into minivans and SUVs without the patient in them, because there would not be enough clearance. There are some higher, unmodified vehicles that have high enough roofs and tall enough entry clearances, Westby says, but for the most part ramps are used for loading and unloading the device sans patient.

Bearing that in mind most ramp solutions will range from 6-foot to 10-foot lengths, with either a single or tri-fold design so that they can be stored in the vehicle and travel with the patient. There are also some suitcase designs to help keep things even more compact, Westby says.

To narrow down the required length the provider starts by determining the height of the vehicle’s rise to ensure there is enough length to prevent a steep grade. To help providers calculate the correct length and other factors, many manufacturers, such as EZ Access, provide training services to providers new to auto access.

“We offer our dealers free training to help them better understand how and what types of ramps customers are going to need,” Westby says. “A tool that takes out a lot of the guesswork is our Incline Chart.”

The chart takes the height of the vehicle rise, from the point on the vehicle where the top of the ramp would rest to the point on the ground where the bottom of the ramp would rest, and compares it to a power mobility device’s maximum tolerance for incline (loaded or unloaded), to come up with the correct length.

Getting a Lift

For more providers looking to go a little further down the spectrum of auto access, another option is providing vehicle ramps. These are devices that attach to a vehicle and allow a power mobility device user or caregiver to roll the device onto the lift, secure it and hit the road. Unlike a vehicle conversion, attaching a lift doesn’t require the provider to get out the blow torch.

“We look at the category of entry-level as those lifts that don’t require vehicle modification,” says Cy Corgan, national sales director for retail mobility products for Pride Mobility.

Often all that is required is a trailer hitch and power. From there, installation can be relatively simple. For example, Corgan says Pride’s exterior Silver Star lifts need a class two or three hitch and can be installed in 45 minutes or less. It’s interior lifts require the removal of the third row of interior seating, and the lift to be bolted to the floor where the seats originally attached. He says this can take as little as an hour to install.

What makes the short installation times possible comes down to power, Corgan says. The lifts have rechargeable battery packs that don’t require hard wiring, or the drilling that would be need to send cabling from the front of the car back to where the lift is positioned.

In terms of resources, Corgan notes that ramp installation does require a dedicated workspace that is out of the weather. In terms of expertise, Corgan says Pride offers extensive and required training and certification for installation and maintenance of its lifts. “The person doing the installation should have some technical background to make it a smoother installation,” Corgan adds.

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Editor of HME Business.

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