Wheelchair Delivery in the Era of COVID-19

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the wheelchair evaluation and delivery process was fairly routine and predictable, and could sometimes be lengthy depending on multiple factors. Included at evaluation time would be a therapist, supplier, possibly a sales rep bringing a demo of desired equipment and caregivers, siblings and whatever friends were along for the ride. It was a full house, and everyone was there to support the client.

I have worked as a physical therapist in a seating clinic in a large pediatric outpatient program, later returned as an ATP (Assistive Technology Provider), and consult as a clinical educator. No matter the role, the process was the same: Evaluation with the team, trial of equipment, paperwork to be done by all parties, submission to funding sources and then the waiting game. Finally, after weeks and months of waiting, the desired approvals come and the equipment is ordered from the manufacturer.

Enter COVID-19 and the process as we’ve known it grinds to a screeching halt. Families and clients who have already been waiting for months are now being told, “not sure when your equipment will be delivered”. Many clinics temporarily closed, putting therapists on furlough or re-deployed throughout hospital systems and suppliers are hampered by shutdowns and unknowns. This still leaves the client without their much-needed equipment making an already lengthy and frustrating process even more murky.

Status Quo, No More

What can be done? Who is responsible to ensure this process reboots? Can we improve? The end goal is still the same, but how do we get there now? Changing how we do things has become the “new norm”. Everywhere we look, listen and turn we are hearing these phrases. I am recommending rethinking, reinventing and retooling.

RETHINKING:

“How things have always been” and “status quo”, when it comes to the wheelchair delivery process is no longer good enough. Individuals in need of an assistive device deserve our best attempts to improve on how things have been done in the past and going beyond that. I don’t have all the answers, but am happy to have discussions with other clinicians, suppliers, sales reps and end users to move the bar forward.

REINVENTING:

Outside the box thinking and implementation of that thinking is a must. Almost everyone has had to reinvent themselves during these past months. Many who have never had an online presence have now become proficient if not excellent in Zoom conferences, Skype meetings, and Go to Webinars. Working with online platforms to perform telehealth is the new norm and collaborating over how this presents in the wheelchair service delivery model is here to stay.

RETOOLING:

Communication is an even more important, now than ever before as social distancing is our new norm. Communication involves all members of the team, keeping up to date, knowing where the process is, and ensuring all parties know and can complete their role in that process. Learning to perform a video evaluation is challenging, communication within the team members is of utmost importance to ensure proper translation to requested, ordered, and ultimately delivered custom equipment.

An APEX for Lola

In  the midst of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to participate in a wheelchair delivery to Lola, a 9-year-old girl who had been waiting way too long for her equipment before Covid-19 showed up. Thankfully evaluation, re-measurement and ordering had all been done properly and the Motion Composites APEX A wheelchair fit beautifully.

Because of pre-existing conditions of siblings, the delivery had to be outdoors, it was 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7° C) . We wore masks and gloves and maintained social distance as much as we were able. Lola is a happy little girl who loves to show affection and interact with everyone around her.  As difficult as it was for the professionals, don’t forget to consider the impact it can have on clients who may have limited contact outside their home to start with.  The new world of COVID-19 seems strange and daunting, but we can work together to make the process efficient and safe.

The situation is not perfect, it is not how any of us wanted it to be, but it gave me a perspective on what the new normal is looks like.  We as an industry need to continue adapting as we navigate what the wheelchair delivery model looks like to ensure that clients like Lola get the custom equipment needed in the most efficient and safest manner.

About Christie Hamstra, PT, DPT, ATP

Clinical Educator

Christie is a Motion Composites clinical educator. She holds a Master of Physiotherapy from Andrews University and a Transitional Doctor of Physiotherapy degree from Oakland University. Through training and conferences, she actively shares her knowledge with future and current industry professionals.