North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

September 30, 2010

Medical equipment can be a necessity

By Steve Mullenix
North Jefferson News

COMMENTARY — There may be a term that many of you have heard, but not know the meaning: “Durable medical equipment” or “DME” products.  DME is a term that covers a diverse range of apparatus that has been designed to assist patients suffering from an illness or injury which restrict their normal mobility and function. It can help people lead more normal lives without heavy reliance on family and caregivers.

There are many different types of durable medical equipment available. They range from simple tools such as ramps that can assist wheelchair users to access entry into buildings and vehicles to highly specialized devices such as hearing aids and respiratory apparatus. Other examples are self help tools such as crutches, walkers, grab rails and prosthetics. Many of these can significantly improve the quality of life for patients and offer them ways in which they can be more mobile and independent.

The range of durable medical equipment is diverse and costs can vary significantly depending on the individual person’s needs and the duration of his illness. However, there is no doubt that durable medical equipment can significantly improve the lives of many patients and allow them to live at home with minimum reliance of care givers and family members.

Types of durable

medical equipment

Durable medical equipment comes in many different shapes and varieties. Although the term ‘durable’ is used, it can also cover disposable, non-durable items that are used in everyday essential home healthcare.  Therefore, durable medical equipment can be split into two main groups:

• Durable equipment which includes long lasting essential items such as wheelchairs, beds, adaptive bikes, walkers, respiratory apparatus, nebulizers, hearing aids and more.

•Non-durable equipment which includes disposable or non-permanent equipment such as gloves, rubber/plastic hose (used for equipment such as catheters and nebulizers that needs regular replacement), syringes and more.

Costs of durable

medical equipment

Many items of durable medical equipment are inexpensive, and can be purchased easily from specialty stores and online providers.  They can provide useful items that enable a patient to carry out everyday functions around the home. For example, grab rails can be fitted to steps, bathrooms and bedsides to provide additional assistance when moving around and getting up and down from a sitting or lying position. These are easy to purchase and can be installed by a professional fitter or someone who is good at installation. Such products can even be found at home improvement stores like Lowes. Just don’t try to use your Blue Cross Blue Shield card at the register.

More specialized forms of durable medical equipment such as hearing aids and prosthetics will need to be obtained through your healthcare provider in most cases, and will require a number of fittings and adjustments, and also ongoing maintenance and servicing. These specialty items can be very expensive, but the benefits they can bring to the patient are vast and they can significantly improve quality of life in assisting the patient to become more independent in the home and when traveling.

Because durable medical equipment can be so beneficial and useful, it is important to check your health insurance and see if you are covered for any of the costs.  It can get expensive, especially if you need it on a long term basis. Medicare does provide some financial support for durable medical equipment that has been recommended or prescribed by your healthcare advisor, but you may be restricted in using one of the authorized suppliers and this can mean long delays in sourcing and ordering the equipment you need. Also Medicare, like many insurance companies, may not pay the full cost of the items you need and instead only cover part of the cost, particularly for very expensive equipment or that which needs regular replacements or servicing.  

Help with choosing durable medical equipment

If you are unsure what durable equipment would be best for you, it is important to talk to your doctor or specialty healthcare provider about the different types of equipment that are available, and which would be most suitable for your individual circumstances. There are providers in the area that specialize in any type of equipment you may need, and some of the less complex, or common equipment, may be available as close as your neighborhood pharmacy.

Steve Mullenix (R.Ph) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with his wife, Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.). They can be reached at 631-1201.