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Have you ever looked at a complex rehab power wheelchair, and wondered why a design aspect is the way it is?

In art, surely accidents and luck can create ingenious outcomes – a photographer capturing the right angle, at the right moment. However, in product design – especially in products as vital as a complex rehab power wheelchair – there are no accidents or luck, but methodical, meticulous design. And, in product design, such a methodical, meticulous approach is geared directly toward the customer who will interface with the product.

However, here's an intriguing question: How do you methodically, meticulously design a product where there's not a single customer using the product, but multiple "customers" interfacing with the product in varying ways?

Indeed, this is the case with complex rehab power wheelchairs, where the design process has to meet and exceed the expectations of six distinct "customer" interfaces – the consumer, caregiver, clinician, provider, payor, and manufacturer – if it is to be a success. Surely, it's difficult to balance such a diverse group of needs in a single product, but like a chef making a single dish to feed many, as long as you understand the ingredients that each person requires – and some will overlap – it's quite possible to please all.

Therefore, let's look at the six customers of complex rehab power wheelchairs, and see how their specific requirements may be built into the complex power wheelchair that you use every day.

Where All Align to Start
When considering complex rehab power wheelchairs, we know that although there are six distinct customers, there are fundamentals that all require as a given: exceptional quality, reliability, and functionality. Even payors (as in Medicare), want quality, reliability, and functionality, no matter how little they're willing to pay. So, these fundamentals are a given for all in a meaningful product.

The Consumer
Next – and first! – is the consumer. Some in the industry refer to consumers as “end users.” However, there's nothing last about consumers – they are the ultimate user and voice. After all, consumers use a complex rehab power wheelchair 365 days per year, so their needs and wishes are paramount, from function to performance to aesthetics. Consumers, then, are the ones most reflected in a complex rehab power wheelchair (and logically so).

The Caregiver
Many don't realize how often caregivers interface with a complex rehab power wheelchair. From attendant controls to removing armrests and legrests for transfers, caregivers often interface with a power wheelchair throughout the day, so it's vital that it's intuitive and easy for them to use.

The Clinician
Clinicians, such as rehab therapists, are true experts when it comes to the anatomical and clinical needs of those with disabilities. Therefore, it's often their voice that contributes greatly toward such aspects as seating and positioning.

The Provider
A provider's role isn't just to sell a product, but to properly assess user need in the ordering process, as well as maintain the power wheelchair over its life. From this perspective, a provider's input toward what's needed in real-world practice (based on everyday observation and customer feedback), as well as ease of service, is a vital point of design input.

The Payor
While statistics vary, most complex power wheelchairs are funded through insurance. Of course, no one wishes funding constraints, but they are there. If payors won't fund a certain level of power wheelchair, no one can purchase one, so there's no reason to manufacture it (basic supply-and-demand economics). In this way, during the design process, manufacturers must strive to maximize the power wheelchair's features while remaining within funding constraints.

The Manufacturer
Interestingly, few ever realize that the manufacturer is likewise a customer of its own product, and must have design input, as well. For example, a manufacturer can design an amazing product, but if it can't be realistically manufactured, it's a moot point. Therefore, manufacturing processes should always be included in any design process.

The Trouble with Consumer-Only Thinking
Some will argue that the consumers should be the only consideration in designing a complex rehab power wheelchair. Yet, if they were, they'd actually have a lesser product. Caregivers must often interface with the product to assist with daily living care. Clinicians help create better seating and positioning for consumers, understanding anatomy better than most. Providers know of service complications, giving input that can create designs for increased reliability and quicker repairs. Payors create funding constraints, and if a product is outside of those constraints, a consumer can't obtain it. And, if a product can't be made in a practical fashion, it can't be manufactured. With all of this in mind, the synergy of all six design inputs truly creates a better product overall for the consumer than if only one perspective was considered.

The Result
Indeed, designing a complex rehab power wheelchair is no easy task, where a myriad of design inputs must be considered. However, when the six key design inputs are considered – the consumer, caregiver, clinician, provider, payor, and manufacturer – not only is a successful product created, but one that’s liberating, as well.

Published 2/2012, Copyright 2012,