Support Surfaces Q & A

The spectrum of existing support surface products on the market today are continually refined with modifications while new products are introduced. This month's conversation is with Ron Resnick, president of Blue Chip Medical Products Inc., Suffern, N.Y

What are the product innovations in the support surface market?

Many manufacturers have tried to improve the quality of existing support surface products with better materials in the construction of the surfaces, extended warranties and a commitment to efficiencies in manufacturing. There are both powered and non-powered surfaces. Many of the innovations are in the design of the products. There are newer technologies with foam-based mattress systems. Better foams with variable densities and IFDs will enhance clinical outcomes over the life of a mattress.

A new area that has been addressed in regards to support surfaces is fall prevention. Some companies have incorporated raised side rails in their systems preventing patients from rolling off the bed. This is especially helpful with patients who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, dementia and other neurological disorders. In addition, with powered systems, the control pumps are user friendly and have built-in alerts to notify the caregiver of power outages and low pressure. Simple and easy controls make any system more effective.

Do you think there needs to be more consumer awareness?

Many consumers see commercials on television for comfort-based products, getting them to think that it will help a family member or friend. In health care, most consumers use the Internet to learn more about products, the features that are available and the companies that produce them, even though most systems are paid for by third-party insurance; Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. Many dealers can increase their cash with in-store business by selling full-, queen- and king-sized pressure relieving toppers for their home beds. Comfort and pressure relief are driving the consumer market. This consumer market has added therapeutic pillows as well.

What are the more popular support surfaces on the market?

There are many types of support surfaces available, powered and non-powered. Non powered surfaces are basically constructed primarily of foam, or a foam base incorporating air bladders with release valves. With powered systems there are three basic styles: low air loss, alternating air and lateral rotational therapies. Some manufacturers offer the three different systems and others offer either low air loss with alternating therapy or low air loss with lateral rotational therapy in one system. Alternating pressure pads and pumps, gel overlays and foam mattresses lead the Medicare Group 1 category. APP'S have been around for quite sometime and are quite effective. Gel overlays that combine foam and gel technology are widely being used as well.

What are the main reimbursement issues facing your market segment?

With respect to wheelchair cushions, Medicare has issued a new set of billing codes with manufacturers having to send in actual testing results for coding approval. Many dealers have outstanding Rehab sales people who are knowledgeable in evaluating each patients individual needs as well as the referral source they are receiving the order from.

Education is the key in every product category. It starts with where the order is generated. Depending of the facility, there is usually a multidisciplinary team consisting of a doctor, wound care nurse, physical or occupational therapist, social worker or discharge planner. By the dealer working closely with their referrals they can update them on how patients can qualify for the different surfaces from an insurance standpoint, showing the newer systems and in fact become an important informational resource for the facility and referral source. The dealer can sponsor patient information days at their store to help educate their customers.

Unfortunately most of the therapeutic surfaces cannot be ordered without a doctors prescription. As a manufacturer I feel the reimbursement is fair so far. Like other tech equipment, a dealer has to provide twenty-four hour support. They need to have staff that can diagnose, repair and service the equipment in the event of a problem. It is up to the manufacturers to work closely with Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies to let them fully understand how this is going to save them money in the long rum. The cost of treating a full Stage IV Pressure Sore can cost between thirty and one hundred thousand dollars. Pay now or pay later. Any further reductions in reimbursement will invite inferior products to the marketplace as well as reducing service levels to the patient.

What are your thoughts on the future of this market?

Pressure sores are nasty, they are debilitating and painful to treat. So many patients feel as though their sores will never heal. I feel for the patients who have to undergo the long process of treatment and therapy. Fortunately the medical community has undertaken an aggressive approach to deal with pressure sores. There are many manufacturers who have developed dressings, and other types of therapies to augment therapeutic support surfaces.

All of us in homecare need to work together to succeed in reducing the healing and therapy time. We must educate third party payers as to the real cost associated with providing a high level of standards. Furthermore, as manufacturers we must be selective as to who we sell our products to. Dealers must be accountable to use quality products that will benefit the patient not just meet a code or requirement. It is imperative that we ensure the quality of care to the end user.

This article originally appeared in the July 2004 issue of HME Business.

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