Why is it so hard, and so expensive, to buy a good powered wheelchair?
The industry response is that they have high overheads, low volume sales, after-sale support, and costs associated with assessments. They claim that internet remote selling of so-called medical technologies such as powered wheelchairs may be cheaper, but the industry says it is unethical.
The EU Court considered these arguments and disagreed. The test case was in 2012 concerning the use of the internet to sell contact lenses in Hungary, which the Hungarian government tried to ban on health grounds. Details in the link below.
The EU Court also spelt out the difference between medicinal products (such as drugs) and medical technologies (such as wheelchairs) and decided that an open market in equipment is lower risk than in prescribed drugs.
This still begs the question whether a wheelchair should be seen as a medical device at all. What about skateboards then? Or tricycles? People can also hurt themselves when they don’t use these correctly.
But even with the current legal definitions, there is no EU legal reason for not having a vibrant, efficient, competitive market in power wheelchairs and similar equipment, just as there is a open market for your choice of a mobile phone. Of course, sometimes assessments are needed and these should be provided for separately.
And ethically, any assessment ought to be independent of the range of products that the assessing company provides.
And why, when the trade fairs – such as NAIDEX – take place are there so many powered wheelchair providers from across Europe lining up to show their wares? Why, because it’s such a lucrative market with high volume, low spec sales and low volume but high spec sales, often to people with a high insurance payout following an accident. The key to understanding this market is knowing who are the customers, who’s actually buying wheelchairs. In large measure it’s corporate customers, the NHS, therapists and specialists who may be advising those individual disabled people who can afford such machines. The chairs are largely chosen and bought by people who don’t use them, and this is the problem. We, the users, rarely get what we want.