On March 18, 2014, I posted an article titled Wheelchair Ordering Tips. I listed the seven required steps by the medical equipment store and insurance company to get a new wheelchair.
My experience has been that buying a bicycle, car, truck, or any other form of transportation is easier than buying a wheelchair. With all other forms of transportation you have the opportunity to test them and reject if they do not fit your needs or standards. With a wheelchair you don’t have that option. The wheelchair specialist told us, “There is no option to return because it’s been specifically ordered this way by the doctor and therapist.”
I have three problems with their policy:
1) The wheelchair specialist makes the recommended order after coaching the doctor and therapist and reviewing what is stated in their “Letters of Necessity”.
2) The wheelchair specialist, doctor and therapist don’t use the wheelchair; therefore they can’t know if the wheelchair will meet all the needs of their patient.
3) You don’t even get to see or feel the actual frame, back, cushion, seat pan or leg rest until they all arrive, therefore it is impossible to know how the wheelchair dependent person will fit or feel in the chair until it arrives. The wheelchair specialist can make some adjustments, but when it was still not right we were told, “There has to be some give and take.” Well, in this situation it feels like we are all “give” and the medical equipment store is all “take”. This system of ordering and buying a wheelchair is definitely inefficient.
This is our timeline for the ordering process:
October 16, 2013 – Mark’s doctor’s appointment for wheelchair prescription.
November 7, 2013 – Required appointment with a Seating/Rehab Specialist and Occupational Therapist to establish what Mark would need.
November 25, 2013 – An additional doctor’s appointment was required for a “Face to Face Evaluation” for the “Letter of Medical Necessity” to be sent to the local medical equipment store to send to the insurance company.
November 29, 2013 – Doctor’s “Letter of Necessity” was received by the local medical equipment store.
January 2, 2014 – Required occupational therapist’s “Letter of Medical Necessity” was received by the local medical equipment store. Ball dropped by therapist and wheelchair specialist. This step was completed after my phone calls to both therapist and specialist.
January 24, 2014 – Local medical equipment store sent information to insurance company. I do not understand why the letters were not sent immediately. It took twenty-two days and my prodding to fax the two letters to the insurance company.
January 28, 2014 – Insurance company sends approval notification.
February 5, 2014 – According to my phone call, local medical equipment store sent order for wheelchair to out of state supplier.
February 10, 2014 – According to my phone call, out of state supplier shipped wheelchair from Arizona to Utah.
February 26, 2014 – According to my phone call the local medical equipment store said they only have the cushion seat.
March 17, 2014 – Five months from our first appointment with the doctor the wheelchair finally arrives. We had to reorder cushion, seat pan and leg rests. These original items did not fit Mark’s need.
May 20, 2014 – Seat pan and leg rests arrive two months after they were ordered, a total of seven months from the beginning of this process.
Because it is getting harder for me to transfer Mark in and out of the wheelchair, it was recommended we get one that reclines so Mark could have a change of position.
This chair is manually reclined by pushing two levers in the back of the wheelchair, making it impossible for the dependent to do their own reclining. Mark has enjoyed this feature, but because it reclines the wheels are set back on the frame, making it harder for Mark to propel. Now I need to push him around almost everywhere.
The leg rests were also adjustable to correlate with the reclining frame. The problem with those is that when Mark had a seizure or pushed on the foot plates to change his positioning the leg rest would adjust upward and Mark does not have the ability to push the leaver to make them go back down. Try moving around in a house with your legs stretched out twenty-four inches in front of you. The medical equipment store would not allow us to exchange the adjustable for standard leg rests. We had to order new standard leg rests for an additional $210.
The frame is longer than the previous chair, making it harder to turn corners and to get into our van that’s customized for a wheelchair. It also sits higher, so we had to make an adjustment to tables and desks Mark sits at.
When you are confined to a wheelchair fourteen to sixteen hours every day it needs to be comfortable and well fitted for all your special needs. Unfortunately, because of the customization they are expensive and because of the many hours per day they are used, they wear out. About every five years you have to go through this drawn-out and frustrating process. The total cost thus far is $8,629.
What I have learned from this experience is that the wheelchair ordering system needs to change. Pictures don’t cut it. Next time we order, I will have my own requirements:
1) I will have to see and maneuver a like wheelchair frame before we order one.
2) I will have to see and feel the recommended cushion and back before it’s ordered.
3) I will have to see and work the leg rests if they are not the standard ones.
4) I will have to have an estimated cost of each item ordered.
5) In the future, because my requirements will probably delay the process that has taken seven months in the past, I will need to start this process one year before Mark needs a new wheelchair.
The medical equipment store has a captive clientele and they are being treated unfairly. If we request seeing and trying a similar wheelchair out before ordering it, most likely we will get what our loved one needs at a cost we are prepared for.