Higher rates of wheelchair breakdowns that require repairs are being reported by wheelchair-dependent patients with spinal cord injury (SCI), according to a study published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
The researchers analyzed data from an ongoing survey of more than 700 wheelchair-dependent SCI patients who reported using their wheelchair at least 40 hours per week. The patients provided routine data on wheelchair breakdowns requiring repairs, along with any consequence of the breakdown, such as being stranded, missing a medical appointment or injury.
They found that the rate of breakdowns has increased over recent years. From 2006-2011, about 53% of wheelchair users reported one or more breakdowns requiring a repair in a 6-month period, compared with a 45% rate of breakdown for 2004-2006. The average number of repairs increased from 1.03 per person in 2004-06 to 1.42 per person for 2006-11. The researchers also found that power wheelchairs had more problems than manual wheelchairs.
The research also suggested that patients whose wheelchairs were funded by Medicare or Medicaid had higher rates of breakdowns and consequences, compared with those that were covered by private insurance companies.
“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,” Michael Boninger, MD, lead researcher from the Veterans Affairs Pittsburg Healthcare System, stated in a press release. “This paper should serve as a call to reevaluate and revise current policies and standards testing for wheelchair prescription in the United States.”
The researchers also recommend that wheelchair users be aware of the importance of routine maintenance in reducing the rates and consequences of breakdowns.