MedEquipDB: Product Support for CRT Clinicians & Suppliers
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Feb 17, 2021
A central theme of Complex Rehab Technology (CRT) is “No single product works for every client.” Due to the complexity of medical conditions, the range of possible progressions and complications, and the goals, activities, and environments unique to each client, CRT seating systems and wheelchairs are custom fit and configured per each user’s individual circumstances.
A wide range of product choices in a product category — such as wheelchair seat cushions — gives seating teams a greater ability to achieve an optimal fit between product and consumer. But having so many choices raises a challenge of its own: keeping track of all the products in a category such as pediatric seat cushions.
After all, what use is a CRT cushion or wheelchair if clinicians and suppliers don’t know about it?
A Resource in the Making
MedEquipDB – the DB stands for database – was founded by Canadian Marc Timmerman after he heard his spouse, an occupational therapist (OT), was constantly looking for information on various mobility products.
Because occupational therapists are tasked with product selection in Canadian seating and mobility provision, the MedEquipDB team originally aimed to help OTs. But Timmerman quickly realized the database could also help other professionals.
“I look at it as supporting any healthcare professional who prescribes seating and mobility equipment, which obviously includes physiotherapists and physical therapists in the U.S.,” he told Mobility Management. “It really comes down to a convenience factor: If a therapist has a product in mind, it can easily be confirmed by our database. Or the database results could suggest a product that wasn’t top of mind that they might not have considered. In the end, the goal is to empower therapists with more product knowledge.”
The database’s cushion section is currently populated with product info from about a dozen manufacturers in the United States and Canada. Visitors to the Web site are asked the age of the client (Pediatric or Adult) and the client’s weight. The orange “Show Filters” button allows clinicians to apply parameters to the database to narrow their search for suitable product.
MedEquipDB then displays photos, manufacturer names, and model names for cushions within those parameters. Click on a specific cushion, and the database provides further details, including weight capacity; the cushion’s composition; its positioning, stability, and pressure redistribution capabilities; cushion widths, depths and heights; and its moisture resistance.
While it’s common for manufacturers to offer internal comparisons — a cushion manufacturer might compare one of its cushions to others in its lineup — Timmerman said the scale of MedEquipDB’s information is unparalleled.
“As of right now, there’s no other database that offers what MedEquipDB does, which is filter and compare seating products across manufacturers,” he explained. “This was conceptualized with an OT, and that was the main challenge: ‘There’s nothing that compares products among manufacturers.’ There’s nothing out there like it.”
The Role of the CRT Supplier
Traditionally in the American model of seating and wheelchair provision, product expertise is primarily the realm of the ATP supplier.
Timmerman expressly said MedEquipDB is not meant to replace suppliers’ product knowledge and experience, but rather to support it. After all, keeping up with the vast number of CRT products available at any time is daunting.
“When this was originally thought up, it was to support therapists,” he noted. “But as I learned more about the industry and talked to more suppliers, I got a better understanding of what their challenges are. We’re looking to support therapists and suppliers as well, and we hope to include all parties as part of this platform. For instance, as one suggestion brought up, it could be used to reaffirm their product selection. Based on the parameters you select in MedEquipDB, our database will generate a fairly comprehensive list of products, and some of them might not be top of mind for a certain supplier, especially for someone who’s newer to the industry. So that could be a possible use.”
Timmerman also suggested that MedEquipDB could help to make clinic visits more efficient by giving seating team members a starting point based on a client’s parameters. “This would be a future feature: It could also be used to share a better understanding of the client’s needs based on the filters the therapist selected,” he said. “For example, a therapist could potentially share their selection of filters with the supplier ahead of the assessment, ensuring everyone arrives prepared and on the same page.”
Timmerman also predicts the database could be helpful in rural areas.
“I think telehealth is definitely going to be here to stay in some form,” he pointed out. “COVID accelerated the need, and people just realized [about telehealth appointments], ‘I can do this, it doesn’t always have to be in person.’ I think MedEquipDB could be a great tool in supporting that whole telehealth communication. It’s an added tool for the therapist. If you can share what you’re looking at or the parameters you’ve selected based on the client’s need, I think that would be a huge help for a lot of therapists, especially the ones who don’t have the support or convenience of an ATP coming out and meeting them.
“I’m in the prairies; it’s pretty rural,” Timmerman said of MedEquipDB’s Winnipeg, Manitoba, headquarters. “A lot of therapists are rural and there are a lot of challenges. They have to wear multiple hats.”
In fact, MedEquipDB can give clinicians the ability to request a quote or product trial from a local supplier. That function could be activated as the Web site rollout continues.
A Database for the Future
While only the cushions portion of MedEquipDB is currently populated with product, Timmerman said the plan is to add power and manual wheelchairs as well as walkers. The next product category to be launched will be backrests.
But much of what happens next to the database will be determined by the seating and mobility professionals who were MedEquipDB’s inspiration.
“MedEquipDB is at a point where we’re trying to determine what provides the most value to therapists,” Timmerman said. “We started off with the database, and I think the database is definitely the core, the bread and butter of MedEquipDB.”
As for what comes next, there are many different possibilities: “Is it expanding with additional product categories, or is it going along the line of communication between therapist and supplier with this request [for a quote or product trial] feature? The reason we started that request feature is therapists had shared that they don’t always have time to make a phone call or take a phone call if they work in a hospital setting, etc. It often takes multiple phone calls to get a quote or a product for trial, so they expressed challenges from that standpoint. So this is why we built this request feature. With that being said, maybe a possible solution would be a way to direct message one or multiple suppliers at once; maybe that would be an easy solution. Maybe it’s developed into an app, and you just say you want a quote from these three suppliers, and you send it out. So we’re trying to figure that out right now.”
Timmerman said the MedEquipDB team wants feedback from clinicians and suppliers that will suggest functional priorities and will ultimately shape what the site will do.
“Are we moving in the right direction?” he asked. “Should we stay more focused on the database side and populate the database as much as possible with product? Or should we start looking at expanding different forms of communication or improving that communication between therapist and supplier?
“Our train of thought was: Let’s complete the next step in the prescription process. The first step is doing the assessment. The next step is narrowing down the product. The third step is getting in touch with a supplier regarding that product, whether it’s a quote or trial; and after that, the fourth step is trialing that product.”
As far as the future of MedEquipDB’s business model — i.e., how the Web site will generate revenue to continue to grow — Timmerman said, “We’re bootstrapping it for the time being. We’ve considered a few monetization strategies. We’re still waiting to collect more feedback and trying to figure out which avenue to pursue. That’ll give us more of a business model.”
Regardless of how that strategy eventually plays out, Timmerman said the team will stay true to its original mission. “MedEquipDB was started to support therapists, so I’d have a hard time gating that information behind a subscription model to therapists. The tool is built to support therapists. Everything kind of falls apart if therapists aren’t using it.”
Send feedback to Marc Timmerman and the MedEquipDB team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at email@example.com.