CRT: Where Accessories Mean So Much More

Dan Debrah

Dan Debrah

If you’re the eagle-eyed sort, you might have noticed a recent change to Permobil’s Global Accessories division: It’s now known as Mobility Support Systems.

Dan Debrah, Ph.D., VP of R&D, is new to Permobil, having joined the manufacturer about six months ago (at press time). He comes most recently from the hospital monitoring industry, which manufactures those devices that check vital signs.

“I have what I will consider the luxury of being new in this specific space, and the luxury is I’m learning a lot,” Debrah said. “I’m applying the background and the purview from which I came, and this is one of the areas I homed in on.”

He’s referring to the word accessories to describe components that, functionally speaking, are so much more.

“You’re being exposed to something new,” Debrah said, “and you think, Am I the only one seeing this? Is it because I don’t understand? The way that this terminology manifests itself from whence I came is very, very different from what I think we intend it to mean in this space.”

Speaking a Common Language

Recently, of course, accessories have been a significant topic in Complex Rehab Technology (CRT). A Medicare policy change in July — which will prevent the future application of competitive bidding-derived pricing to accessories used on CRT manual wheelchairs — was the result of years of industry advocacy and education. Accessories is the term used by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and therefore has been the term most often used by CRT stakeholders.

Said Debrah: “As I got to understand what the section of the portfolio was, my question was How do we call that ‘accessories’? Accessories typically have the connotation of something like a cupholder. That’s not what we’re talking about here. And that’s how we ended up on the path of It’s incumbent upon us to call this something different so it truly represents the value that it has in our overall portfolio.”

In the hospital monitoring segment, he added, “When we talked about accessories, they were the nice-to-haves. The end user or the customer would still get their core need met, with or without the accessory.”

Take, for example, a bar code scanner: “If you’ve ever gone to a hospital, they put the little band on your wrist, and the nurse or doctor scans that, and it uploads your information directly into the monitor. It provides a huge efficiency gain. But [hospital personnel] can still get your information if that scanner is not there; they can just type it in. It makes their lives a little easier, and it does serve a critical need, because that extra five minutes not spent tapping the information into the monitor is five extra minutes they can spend caring for the patient. So I don’t want to minimize the importance of that accessory. But even in that case, you can still do without it.

“In Complex Rehab, it doesn’t work that way. The user cannot truly gain the benefit of the mobility device they have without these things, and that’s why we didn’t want to cast them off as accessories.”

The Necessity of Accessories

Asked which Permobil products are considered accessories, Debrah said, “Basically all of our seating and positioning devices, and then also within our current portfolio, it includes power-assist devices. We also have alt[ernative] drive controls and any of those types of add-ons. The whole idea being that there is the fundamental mobility mechanism in the wheelchair, whether it be manual or power. And then there’s everything else that the user interacts with and everything else that ensures that the user is ultimately having the experience that we aspire to provide.”

Debrah also recognized the need for a change in perception. “When we’re having our internal discussions about Here’s what we want to do with the portfolio, what we don’t want to do is only talk about power wheelchairs and manual wheelchairs. And if we have five minutes at the end: Oh yeah, what about these accessories? Instead, they truly should be part of the larger discussion on how they support mobility.

“When we talk about our core values, the first thing we talk about is user first. It goes beyond just saying we provided you a piece of equipment. We’re here to provide an experience that supports whatever lifestyle that user wants to have. So these Mobility Support Systems are everything that comes along with the wheels, to ensure that their daily lives are the way that they want them to be.”

A New Perception

Mobility Support Systems is more than just a name change. “The culture that we were trying to instill in the team that worked on this and the vision that we have for this is: We don’t want to consider these the alsorans or nice-to-haves,” Debrah said.

Is Permobil seeking to expand that perception beyond its own team? “I don’t want to overstate where we are on our current journey,” Debrah said. “I think right now we are mostly inward looking. But we consider ourselves a leader in this industry, and I think part of being in a leadership position is also leading change and transformation and helping shape the industry. That is certainly something we have talked about. Right now, we’re focused on educating ourselves, if I’m being fair. And then there will be a time and place for looking outward.”

Ultimately, it’s all about making sure these critical components get the attention they deserve. “Words matter, and part of the changing of the [division] title was making sure the way we approach these things from a design perspective, from a prioritization perspective, that we’re changing our mindset and the importance of that so it becomes more than just words,” Debrah said. “We want to put just as much focus on these as we do on the other parts of our portfolio. That’s where we are in our current internal journey. Not just changing our language, but also changing how we look at these things and how we behave.”

This article originally appeared in the Sep/Oct 2021 issue of Mobility Management.

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