Public Release: 

Wheelchair breakdowns becoming more common, reports AJPM&R

Medicare reimbursement changes may contribute to increased rates of breakdowns and consequences

Wolters Kluwer Health

Philadelphia, Pa. (May 2, 2012) - Wheelchair users with spinal cord injury (SCI) report very high rates of wheelchair breakdowns--and the problem is getting worse, suggests a study in American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (AJPM&R), the official journal of the Association of Academic Physiatrists, AJPM&R is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

The study found that over 50 percent of wheelchair users experienced a breakdown in a six-month period, up from a previous report. "It is possible that this increase in the number of repairs is the result of a decrease in wheelchair quality resulting from changes in reimbursement policies and a lack of enforcement of standards testing," write the researchers, led by Dr Michael Boninger of University of Pittsburgh's Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. They also found a significant increase in wheelchair breakdowns causing health and safety consequences.

For People with SCI, Wheelchair Breakdowns Becoming More Frequent

Dr Boninger and colleagues analyzed data from an ongoing survey study of more than 700 individuals with SCI who used wheelchairs at least 40 hours per week. The participants provided routine data on wheelchair breakdowns requiring repairs, along with any consequences of breakdowns--for example, being stranded, missing a medical appointment, or being injured.

The data suggested that the rate of wheelchair breakdowns has increased in recent years. From 2006 to 2011, about 53 percent of wheelchair users reported one or more breakdowns requiring repair per six-month period--a significant increase over the 45 percent rate from 2004 to 2006. The average number of repairs per person also increased: 1.42 in 2006-11, compared to 1.03 in 2004-06.

The rate of adverse consequences of breakdowns increased as well: 30.5 percent in 2006-11, compared to 22 percent in 2004-06. The total number of consequences per participant in 2006-11 was more than twice as high as in 2004-06.

Power wheelchairs had more problems than manual wheelchairs--nearly two-thirds of all consequences were reported by power wheelchair users. These rates were especially high in wheelchairs equipped with power seat functions.

Differences by Race/Ethnicity and Funding Source

Rates of breakdowns and repairs appeared higher for individuals from a racial/ethnic minority background. These same individuals were also less likely to have a backup wheelchair available.

Individuals whose wheelchairs were funded by Medicare or Medicaid had higher rates of breakdowns and consequences, compared to those covered by private insurance or other sources (such as the Veterans Administration or workers compensation).

More than 2.8 million Americans use a wheelchair for mobility, allowing greater independence in daily functioning, home life, and vocational settings. Wheelchair users are at risk when breakdowns occur, with consequences ranging from minor inconveniences to significant injuries.

The new data raise concerns that wheelchair users with SCI are experiencing higher rates of wheelchair breakdowns. The higher risk among people whose wheelchairs are funded by Medicare/Medicaid may be at least partly related to recent changes in insurance reimbursement policy. In addition, the lax requirements for testing don't ensure that wheelchairs meet established standards for performance and safety.

"This paper should serve as a call to reevaluate and revise current policies and standards testing for wheelchair prescription in the United States," Dr Boninger and coauthors conclude. They also suggest that educating wheelchair users on the importance of routine maintenance--such as replacing cushions, caster wheels, and batteries at recommended times--might help to reduce the rates and consequences of breakdowns.

###

Read the full article at ajpmr.com before it appears in print.

About AJPM&R

American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation focuses on the practice, research and educational aspects of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Monthly issues keep physiatrists up-to-date on the optimal functional restoration of patients with disabilities, physical treatment of neuromuscular impairments, the development of new rehabilitative technologies, and the use of electrodiagnostic studies. The Journal publishes cutting-edge basic and clinical research, clinical case reports and in-depth topical reviews of interest to rehabilitation professionals.

About the Association of Academic Physiatrists

The AAP was founded in 1967 to serve as the national organization of physiatrists who are affiliated with medical schools. The AAP is a member organization of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The objectives of the Association are to promote the advancement of teaching and research in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation within an academic environment. The organization acts as a sounding board and forum for the exchange of ideas and information relative to all phases of the art and science of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

About Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) is a leading international publisher of trusted content delivered in innovative ways to practitioners, professionals and students to learn new skills, stay current on their practice, and make important decisions to improve patient care and clinical outcomes. LWW is part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading global provider of information, business intelligence and point-of-care solutions for the healthcare industry. Wolters Kluwer Health is part of Wolters Kluwer, a market-leading global information services company with 2011 annual revenues of €3.4 billion ($4.7 billion).

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.