Everyday life in the medical supply store: working on, with and for people
Everyday life in the medical supply store: working on, with and for people
Whether it is an orthotic, prosthetic or wheelchair – it takes orthopedic know-how and skill to ensure the assistive device has the proper fit and also "fits" your lifestyle (pun intended). Although orthopedic technicians are often the first point of contact for patients, their profession is often unfairly underrated. High time REHACARE.com asked about the equipment and tools an orthopedic technician needs and learned about the role of the medical supply store in the healthcare supply chain.
The plaster workshop is not yet completely obsolete. Because despite all the technology and digitalization, orthopedic technicians are still a manual profession. Most of the work involves individually adapting the aids to the user.
Wheelchairs, rollators, medical bandages – the medical supply store is your source for these items and so much more. In fact, it is the essential link in the healthcare supply chain. This is where patients can get advice and find a one-stop source of knowledge about the myriad of available assistive technologies. It is the go-to place where they can find the right device that fits their specific needs – quite literally. Sanitätshaus Raab is one of these key points of contact in Frankfurt, German.
There is no one-size-fits-all assistive technology
Every day for the past seven years, Felix Raab, himself a certified orthopedic technician, and his colleagues have worked together to achieve the same goal: "No matter who walks into our medical supply store, we want to deliver the best and most professional service and care for everyone." After all, "there is no such thing as the typical workday or the typical customer in this profession. Every day brings new special cases, complete with their own unique problems and character." But the Raab medical supply store has a secret recipe for success: it features a diverse team of young and highly experienced employees. When a new type of orthotic device comes onto the market, the team is eager to personally take it for a test drive: Always hungry for new insights and knowledge, always driven by the desire to work with cutting-edge technology, and always curious and ready to learn more about their job. After all, the market for assistive technologies is not only complex, but is also constantly changing. "I always bring innovation and differentiated products and services to our store. Of course, everyone has their favorites among the manufacturers with whom they have had great experiences in the past. But this is empirical knowledge you simply gain in the course of your job by always trying new things," says Raab. Raab's objective is to be the best medical supply store in Frankfurt. One in which people feel welcome, comfortable, and well-looked after. "We always take a step-by-step approach. Our goal is not to sell as many products as possible, but to try things with our customers until we find the best product that fits them."
It doesn't always have to be the high-end product. Despite all technological advances, the healthcare sector still faces a big problem: "Denied access to the right care is often not the fault of the respective care provider, but comes down to lack of available financing," says Tobias Werner, a certified orthopedic technician at apt Prothesen Rhein-Neckar. "Due to the standardized level of coverage (in Germany), it is often difficult for companies like us to provide genuine personalized care without losing money. This is where we depend on support from the insured to insist on actually receiving the benefits and services from their health insurance policy." Raab also points out that today's patients are generally better informed about their benefits prior to entering the medical supply store, and adds, "We have to manage the balancing act between the one-size-fits all approach and what is truly feasible."
Felix Raab is a orthopaedic technician at Sanitätshaus Raab and wants to provide all customers with the best possible aids.
Economic feasibility: There are limits to using the latest technology
Needless to say, the choice also depends on what a person wants the device to do, on what he/she can still do or would like to do again. The most technologically advanced assistive device might actually not be the one that is the best fit for the patient. However, Werner believes it's a positive trend that users "insist on improved quality of life and more individuality from us technicians and are prepared to fight with their healthcare payers to get their needs met."
Unfortunately, this does not fix the general problem that it is ultimately not the technicians who get to decide what the best device is for their patients, but the healthcare payers. "We would love to incorporate stylish, modern, and digital facets. But that's not always feasible in our industry," says Felix Raab. Peter Fröhlingsdorf, CEO ofMecuris agrees. His assessment: "Healthcare facilities are definitely able to keep up with the pace of innovation. Many more innovative and, above all, individual fittings would be possible, but they systematically get rejected by the payers." This has especially dire consequences for children and adolescents. As they grow and develop, so does their need for personalized assistive devices. Yet far too often, parents are forced to fight insurance companies to cover the costs of these treatments, which unnecessarily delays much needed provision of care. Fröhlingsdorf calls this a fatal system error. After all, besides family members, you have specialty doctors, therapists/nursing staff and technicians who are involved in the care decision. They jointly choose the assistive device that can ideally compensate for the disability or best suits the patient. "It would be only right that the group of professionals who contribute to your care and treatment as a patient has the decision-making power to choose the type and design of the assistive technology," explains the Mecuris CEO.
Yet apart from the issue of assumption of cost, not everything that is technologically feasible in orthopedic technology can also be adapted. Everyone has their own unique physiognomy, character, and special case. "Our profession isn't privy to all that is modern, hip and cool until years later," says Felix Raab. Take 3D printing, for example. Other industries are far more developed and further ahead than the latest orthopedic technology applications. "That's because we have to break everything down since there are simply too many parameters that play a role in our field, which presently makes things very difficult to evaluate from a technical perspective."
A YouTube channel provides easy-to-understand answers that add value
Curiosity and the willingness to try new things are key in this profession. "Orthopedic technicians are always curious and try everything that is new and might work. We are always on the lookout for new ways to make assistive devices even better and enhance the fit to improve user lives," says Fröhlingsdorf. The certified orthopedic technician completed his education with Josef Rahm. The latter gave his former student the following advice: "It is your responsibility to know and understand the market and your options. If you don't give your patient access to the latest assistive technology, you have not done your job right." This advice is more relevant than ever because digitalization and mechanization continue to affect the craft. "Technology is increasingly making its way into the industry," explains Tobias Werner. "Especially when it comes to customization, 3D printing and scanning technologies are becoming more prevalent and affordable," the orthopedic technician from apt Prothesen adds.
In essence, the job of an orthopedic technician is more complex than ever. There are more and more options added to the mix and you need to keep up with them to ensure the best result for your patients. Thomas Wetzelsperger also wants to give interested parties an overview. During his orthopedic technician training, the medical orthobionics student noticed a need for more online learning resources. "You rarely find the answers to your questions online, starting with the way prosthetics are made, to orthotics and rehabilitation technology," he explains. He chose to take the reins and aside from the fundamentals of biomechanics, he explains issues with orthotics and prosthetics on his YouTube channel “gOT it!”. Viewers can also find videos on soft skills on his channel. "A general goal is to create instructional videos for many subareas of orthopedics and to cover the majority of the subjects with proven facts to make this profession more accessible to colleagues, users, and other interested parties to ultimately support patients on their care journey," says Wetzelsperger. He fact-checks the contents of his videos against textbooks and current studies. Apart from the beneficial side effect of learning new things while he creates his videos, he also hopes they make interesting orthopedic subjects easier to understand and more accessible. Not only does he intend to build awareness for his profession, but he also wants to inspire his colleagues and other interested parties to pursue further studies. He says the technical literature sometimes tends to be dry, boring, and difficult to understand thanks to a multitude of tech terms. That is why he uses animations in his videos to illustrate content more simply with the help of images. Wetzelsperger really enjoys working on his channel and creating the videos. And it shows. "There are so many exciting developments in orthopedic technology. I am so glad that I can take a closer look at some of these aspects." This also includes digital solutions, which we highlighted in our article "From scanning to 3D printing: the workshop goes digital". However, "my definition of a great orthopedic technician is a specialist who delivers the best quality of life for patients. Digital methods are very useful tools for this, but ultimately, they are merely additional production techniques that must be applied by skilled hands. The technician's professional expertise, empathy, and communication skills are also pillars of good medical care and combined with the production techniques should ultimately have the shared goal of improving the patient's quality of life."
The little customers are also provided with everything they need in the medical supply store.
Multifaceted, exciting, and communicative - no two days are the same
While orthopedic technician is not exactly the most well-known profession and certainly not the first job that comes to mind when it comes to traditional jobs that help people, the key responsibility of this career is to help and work with people. Whether it pertains to colleagues, the care team, or the patient: teamwork is everything. This can be challenging, yet at the same time fulfilling when you witness how your job helps people improve their self-determination and quality of life. Creativity and improvisation are likewise important skills of orthopedic technicians. "I basically know what to expect when it comes to a person with a lower extremity amputation," says Felix Raab. But every assistive device – whether it is a prosthesis, orthosis, or wheelchair – must be customized and individually adapted to live up to its name. "No two assistive devices are the same," Peter Fröhlingsdorf points out. Therefore, it might be necessary to find solutions to problems you did not expect despite your best planning. And although the latest technology can help simplify the manufacturing process, it is still a craft where you need to get your hands dirty. After all, orthopedic technicians spend most of their time adjusting the devices to fit the patient. And that still requires good old handiwork. However, medical knowledge is just as important as manual and technical skills. Technicians should know the structures of the human musculoskeletal system and understand how certain disease patterns manifest in the body. And if this has inspired you to learn more about this profession or if you are still in the middle of training or studies, Tobias Werner wants to give you another tip: "Apart from learning about the personal qualities and attributes this job requires, make sure to get an overview of the many facets of this career to choose a specialty as soon as possible."
For the past 35 years, the Raab medical supply store has successfully embraced these qualities and experiences. The customer feedback has always been positive throughout the company's successful history. Felix Raab points out that, "Some of our customers have sought our help for many years and not just out of convenience, but because they are in good hands with us." The team has achieved its ultimate goal – one it also plans to pursue for the next 35 years.
Anne Hofmann (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com