By Rick Wyche, Executive Director of Sales, Marketing and Business Development, ATF Medical
According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the average cost of a spinal cord injury (SCI) for a 25-year-old will be almost $5 million in health care and living expenses over the individual’s lifetime. This doesn’t even include the loss of productivity or loss of wages. Plus, this projection is sure to go up, with some SCIs well exceeding this figure.
Technological advances and growth in the use of technology–simple and advanced–will help control claim costs while dramatically improving injured workers lives. Using telehealth to evaluate wheelchair repairs is a good example.
While the use of telehealth soared during the early stages of the pandemic, recent studies show only 23% of the population engaged in at least one telehealth visit in the past four weeks, with most visits being for medication checks and mental health therapy. Telehealth remains an outlier for evaluating and repairing complex rehabilitation technology.
For an SCI who uses a wheelchair, deploying telehealth for repairs can make the difference between being unable to use their wheelchair for just a few days versus being without it for a month or more. Based on conversations with people in the workers’ comp industry, the average time to fix a wheelchair from start to finish is about 40 days.
SCIs and other injured workers who rely on wheelchairs suffer every day they wait for repairs. Being unable to use their “legs” can cause them to miss doctors’ appointments, work, and personal engagements, leading to other issues. When chairs are down, injured workers, especially those with an SCI, are often stuck in bed and unable to engage in the basic aspects of everyday life. This can lead to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety or physical issues like pressure injuries.
Patient satisfaction with their medical care goes way down. Complaints to adjusters go way up.
Many things factor into the wait time, such as getting insurance approval and waiting for parts, but one of the biggest hurdles is the initial evaluation. It has become standard industry practice to send a technician to an injured worker’s home to evaluate for repairs. Depending on the available number of technicians, distance from the provider to the injured worker, and technicians’ schedules already being full, initial evaluations can take up to several weeks.
Most repair issues can be diagnosed via telehealth. These calls can usually be made same day or the next day, greatly reducing the time a wheelchair user’s equipment is down.
In addition, wheelchair manufacturers have employed technology to make their products more “connected.” Some, such as Permobil, have created apps to track seating and positioning. A high-level SCI wheelchair user should adjust position every 15 to 30 minutes. This is one of the main defenses against pressure injuries. Repositioning changes the pressure points on the body to prevent one area from absorbing pressure for too long.
Some wheelchairs have alarms and tracking built into the electronics to tell an injured worker it is time to adjust their position via the chair’s tilt or recline function. The frequency of adjustments can then be recorded and sent to a healthcare provider to help them understand why pressure injuries are occurring and to monitor compliance.
This last technology, the LUCI system, isn’t new per se, but it has recently been adapted to wheelchairs. The system is a set of sensors placed on wheelchairs that keep the injured worker from crashing into walls, falling off curbs, or tipping over.
These “fusion sensors,” which combine data from radar, camera vision, and ultrasonics, map the world around the powerchair driver. When LUCI’s sensors detect an object or drop-off in the path of the wheelchair, its software scales back user input at the joystick so they have time to navigate away from danger. It can also bring chairs to a complete stop to prevent collisions and tip-overs.
Wheelchair accidents can cause minor to life-threatening injuries, with trips to emergency departments, not to mention costs of repairs to the chair. Considering that over 87 percent of wheelchair users experienced a tip or a fall in the past three years, sensors are a wise investment.
In addition, LUCI’s cloud-based app keeps injured workers connected with care teams. It can alert a designated caregiver to a dying battery and the need to pick up the injured worker, so they aren’t stuck out in the community.
These are just a few examples of how adopting technology for wheelchairs can help payers manage costs, while greatly benefiting injured workers. Increasing the use of telehealth and investing in advanced technology will promote recovery and improve the quality of life for SCI patients and other injured workers who rely on wheelchairs. Put to use correctly, technology makes life better for everyone involved in these claims.
About Rick Wyche
As Executive Director of Sales, Marketing & Business Development, Rick Wyche serves on the company’s senior leadership team, sets business development strategy and oversees the company’s marketing and account management teams. Wyche is an expert on mobility and accessibility equipment and technology used by injured workers.
He joined the company as an intern while he was still in college and has worked in nearly every part of the business, from customer service to evaluating seriously injured workers and fitting them with complex rehabilitation equipment.
A graduate of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, Wyche holds Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) and Certified Environmental Access Consultant (CEAC) credentials. He can be reached at [email protected]
About ATF Medical
ATF Medical provides all the medical equipment and adaptive housing projects required for a complex workers’ compensation claim.
Specialists assess injured workers and their homes and recommend and implement solutions to foster mobility, independence, and safety. Clinically driven, outcomes-oriented solutions include DME, such as complex rehab chairs, home access equipment, and hospital beds. ATF Medical stays involved for the life of the claim, fitting equipment to injured workers and educating them on its use and care and maintaining and servicing DME for the life of the claim. In addition, the company provides a pressure injury prevention program and efficient, cost-effective home modifications.
Known for its stellar service, ATF Medical takes work off the desks of claims representatives by handling the myriad details of ordering and scheduling and ensuring that work is done on time and within budget. Clients include workers’ compensation ancillary service providers, carriers, employers, and other payers.
Formerly known as After the Fall, ATF Medical was founded in 2001. For more information, visit www.atfmedical.com or call 877-880-4283.