How to Provide a Range of Services that Supports Bariatric Patients

Sponsored by: Big Boyz Industries

With the meteoric increase of people suffering from obesity, bariatric equipment has become a major growth market for durable medical equipment providers over the past few years. As of 2010, more than 72 million Americans are now obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Statistics also show that one-third of the residents of nine U.S. states are obese. As more and more people fit the definition of being obese, the increase in the need for bariatric equipment rises as well.

“The increase in the population of obese patients has caused the manufacturers of bariatric equipment to not only increase their production but to also consider adding items that they previously had not produced,” says James Scaife, president, Continental Health Equipment, Inc. “Over the past few years, lift chairs, scooters, and bath safety equipment have been revamped to accommodate these larger patients.”

For providers in or just entering the bariatrics market, one of the most important pieces of equipment for a bariatric patient is the bariatric bed, says Scaife.

The bed should be designed for the patient’s weight and size,” he says. “Another factor to consider is to have a bed that is lower to the floor area so that if a patient should fall from the bed he or she would be at a lower risk for serious injury. Since bariatric patients tend to spend more time in bed, beds that provide a sitting position are in demand since they permit the patient to do activities other than sleeping while in the bed.”

Support surfaces and wound care are extremely important areas for the bariatric patient. Scaife offers this advice for providers:

  • Bariatric patients are at a greater risk for pressure sores due to their size and immobility. Bariatric patients are usually unable to reposition themselves and, therefore, have more pressure on a specific area for longer periods of time.
  • The bariatric patient usually has higher levels of moisture due to perspiration and this becomes an ideal area for pressure sores to develop.
  • Bariatric patients typically have lower levels of oxygen in their blood, which leads to a strain on the heart and lungs. A pressure ulcer can develop quickly in an area where there is a lack of oxygen and nutrition to that part of the body.
  • Providing the bariatric patient with low air loss mattresses and alternating pressure mattresses together with proper wound supplies can help prevent and heal wounds. The patient’s physician orders most mattresses and wound care supplies for the patient.
  • It is critical for an equipment company to work closely with physicians in their geographical area to help educate them on the types of equipment that are available for their patients. Also, working with your local home health agencies and the nursing homes in the area and offering to educate them on the types of equipment that you offer and their proper usage will help to build alliances.

Another important area of care for the bariatric patient is accessibility in the home and bath safety equipment.

“More and more bariatric patients are trying to stay in their homes and find that their home may need modifications to provide wider doorways, ramps and other adjustments to accommodate the equipment that the patient may require,” says Scaife. “A home inspection should be the No. 1 requirement for any supplier to perform before recommending or supplying any equipment to a patient. The supplier needs to make sure that the equipment that they are going to provide will fit into the home of the patient and work adequately for the patient. Bariatric patients staying in the home setting will need all of the safety equipment and fixtures that any home patient would need but in a design that will support their weight. Providing the home patient with grab rails, shower chair or bench, and toilets that support their weight and size is critical for safely staying in the home setting. Providing not only the equipment but also the expertise of installing and modifying the patient’s home for this equipment is a fast growing area of the bariatric market.”

Equipment companies need to keep in constant contact with their equipment manufacturers for new items that will benefit the bariatric market. Attending trade shows and symposiums usually provides the dealer with new items and with items that have been modified specifically for this market.

“Providing bariatric equipment to patients, whether in the nursing home or in the home setting, is a challenge for all medical equipment providers,” says Scaife. “A good provider of medical equipment is one who is going to inspect the area where the equipment will be used to determine whether the equipment not only will fit in the area but that the equipment will function properly. The company will also instruct the patient and caregiver in the proper use of the equipment and answer any questions that they might have about the equipment. Providing good quality equipment that has been designed to handle the patient’s weight and size is a critical requirement for the bariatric market because it ensures the safety and comfort of the patient.”

Points to Remember:

  • Supporting bariatric patients is a business and patient imperative given current obesity statistics.
  • Bariatrics includes a wide range of DME, including beds and support surfaces.
  • Bariatric patients are at greater risk for pressure sores, and have specific support surface needs in that regard.
  • Providers must educate physicians about the DME solutions available to address these needs.
  • HMEs must educate themselves on the latest solutions, as well.

Learn More:

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Joseph Duffy is a freelance writer and marketing consultant, and a regular contributor to HME Business and Respiratory & Sleep Management. He can be reached via e-mail at jduffy@hmemediagroup.com or joe@prooferati.com.

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