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I always use the term consumer when it comes to those needing mobility products – namely because it's a term of empowerment. After all, if we're functioning as consumers, not patients, we intrinsically have much more control over the mobility decisions that effect our lives.

However, some argue that we're not consumers at all, but patients, where our mobility is dictated to us based on insurer funding constraints, clinical directives, and terminology that's incomprehensible to the average person, that the mobility market isn't tuned to consumers in the same way as the mainstream marketplace might define.

Indeed, both of these positions can be stated as true when looked at individually. Yet, when personal accountability comes into play, patients clearly can be consumers in the truest definition.

From the start, we know that insurer funding constraints – at least for approximately 90% of us – dictate the level of mobility product we receive. If we have fantastic insurer funding, we can have a “higher-end” mobility product than if we have less insurer funding. This may sound like an at-their-mercy system; however, consumers still have some control and say in the process. Firstly, insurance is a product, and savvy consumers strive to fully understand policies and coverages – it's typically not hard to find out DME coverage of any given policy. Secondly, within any funding limitations, consumers still have a choice among models in each given funding class – and it's up to the consumer to determine which model is best (readily accomplished via online product resources, and literature).

Of course, clinicians and providers still dictate many specifications, as they should – they're experts in physiology and rehab technology, with formal educations to back-up their expert opinions. Yet, as consumers, we have the ability to not only choose our clinicians and providers – even under the most stringent insurer policies – but we, as consumers, must voice and uphold our opinions, expressing our needs, as well.

Lastly, while mobility products may have terminology that is rightfully based in physiology – like a lateral thoracic support – if a consumer truly wishes to assume control over his or her mobility purchases, he or she must invest the effort and time in learning the lingo (not unlike consumers do when getting into any field, from computers to fishing). Again, if you're reading this article, you have access to the Internet, where there's a wealth of information.

Therefore, while it's easy for some to view themselves as victims of the system – that is, as patients – true consumers put in the time and effort to learn about mobility products, understand the funding policies that effect them, and go on to be their own best advocates. In the end, the result is profound: The model of distribution of mobility products in North America can be more consumer-controlled on an individual basis than many realize.



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Published 6/2011, Copyright 2011,