Blog PostsOct 1, 2019

Wheelchair Ordering Tips

By Heather Dorries

Making the decision to get your child their first wheelchair isn’t always an easy one. From deciding when is the right time to order, to navigating the convoluted world of insurance and DME (durable medical equipment) companies – it’s a whole new world of terms and policies. Our first wheelchair ordering adventure wasn’t without its hiccups, so I hope to help parents just starting this journey and make their experience a little bit easier. So here are my Top 5 – Need to know tips before ordering your child their first wheelchair.

  1. Get them some practice wheels early on. Independent mobility is key to children’s development – physical and mental. Even if your child has a high function level the odds are that they will still take a little longer to hit their gross motor skills and tire out easily even once they do. The ability to independently move around and interact with their environment is something that all children should be able to do while still babies. Being held or sitting stationary in a stroller, bouncer, high chair, etc doesn’t give them this opportunity. There are a few different options for baby wheels such as ZipZac or Bumbo wheelchairs you can make at home. The added benefit is that once it’s time to order a full-size pediatric chair, your child will have already mastered how to get around on wheels!
  2. The earlier you order, the better. I’ve found that a lot of doctors and therapists do not recommend ordering a wheelchair until your child turns 3. We had to push back many times to get my son his chair as early as we did, but I do not regret a moment of it. Some parents have found the wheelchair ordering process to be quick, others have waited for 6+months AFTER choosing their chair and having their fitting to actually receive it. There is no way to know beforehand how long your process is going to take. If a neurotypical child is walking and running around, able to explore their environment, then our children should have the tools needed to do that at the same age.
  3. Research. Research. And then when you’re sick of researching, research some more. The more informed you are when meeting with the medical equipment supplier, the more seriously they will take you and your opinions. Poll other parents on their favorite brands. Visit the manufacturer’s website and review the ordering forms to see all of the choices out there. Try to find a seating clinic (sometimes called other things like Wheelchair Clinic) through a local children’s hospital. They will have models of all the major brands, and you have the opportunity to test drive before making your choice. If you still aren’t sure, ask to take one home as a trial.
  4. Your insurance doesn’t know which brand of wheelchair you choose. All custom wheelchairs are coded the same for insurance purposes. If you’re being told by the medical supply company that your insurance will not cover a certain brand, what that likely means is that it’s a pricier (better quality) wheelchair, and there won’t be as much money left over for their commission. Medical companies’ commission isn’t based on the sale amount, but rather the difference between what insurance gives them for a wheelchair and the actual cost of the chair. (Example: Your insurance will pay $5k, the wheelchair costs $4k. Therefore, the medical supply company takes a $1k commission. MANY people find that they’re directed to buy the cheaper chairs, and not what is actually best for their child.)
  5. DO NOT SIGN the delivery ticket for your chair until you’re 100% convinced it’s the perfect chair and the perfect fit for your child. You do not own that wheelchair and are not legally required to pay for it until you sign that paper. Yes, you even have the right to refuse the chair entirely and ask that they start from scratch.

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