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Keeping the Home in Medical Equipment

by Cheryl Ellis, Staff Writer

The varieties of situations caregivers deal with on a yearly basis often include one or more experiences with medical equipment brought into the home. Medical supply companies deal in everything from oxygen to diabetic supplies, depending on the company.  While caregivers breathe a sigh of relief when the medical supplies are first delivered, prolonged exposure can add to stress.

Who Pays The Price?

While physician offices try their best to find medical equipment companies that are reliable, local, and are on the patient’s insurance, caregivers must follow up with the company directly to insure no later surprises. 

Before the company even comes out to install the equipment, caregivers may want to take any available moment to clarify insurance coverage. Some pieces may be covered at 100 percent, but individual insurances differ from Medicare/Medicaid assignments.  The last thing needed is a bill at the end of the month reflecting partial coverage. 

Companies may work with the individual, writing off portions. Not all of them will, and a caregiver must be prepared to call the doctor’s office back to have them find another company, or go in search of one that covers adequately.  Usually, a call to the customer service manager helps, but a caregiver could find themselves eventually speaking to the company owner before making a decision to remove the equipment. 

This research is best done in the doctor’s office before allowing them to phone the company. “One stop shopping” has a reassuring sound to it, but surprises can and do occur.  Willingness to find another company must figure into the picture. 

Finally, just because the price is better doesn’t mean the service is.  You may be paying zero dollars out of pocket, but the company must be tracked down when you have a question.  Companies that work with insurance, provide good customer care, AND stay in business exist.  Fifteen minutes of dedicated caregiver work can result in months or years of peace.

Initial Relief, Prolonged Stress?

Mom’s oxygen concentrator will generally come with one or more oxygen tanks as backup in case of power outages.  The caregiver may be surprised to find one piece of equipment has turned into several (the original electric concentrator, oxygen tubing, and tanks).  Not only does it require some basic knowledge to have the equipment in the home, but the task of finding safe locations to store the pieces becomes critical.  Mom may also be resistant to using the oxygen, adding one more problem to a situation that was supposed to improve life at home.

Know Your Responsibilities

From the start, clarify with the company representative what your responsibilities are.  Many companies come out on a regular basis to check the status of the equipment.  These checks are part of their service in renting the equipment, but not all items may be checked on.  For example, wheelchair maintenance or walkers are taken care of when a need arises. Yet, oxygen units, feeding pumps and air compressors may require regular checks.

As a caregiver, it can be frustrating to come home from a long day at work only to hear messages from a home care rep that needs to maintain the equipment.  If you have recently ordered supplies, especially oxygen tanks, you may confuse maintenance with supplies.  The persistent attempts to contact you, combined with the need to schedule a day and time, can leave a caregiver wishing the equipment never came through the door.

“Standby” equipment can be the most annoying. Find a spot to house the equipment while keeping it clean and useful.  If friends or family cannot be deployed to help find space, take the opportunity to “hide” superfluous things in large plastic bins. 

When a loved one has an entire room devoted to medical equipment, making it look more like a hospital room, it may be important to consider professional rearranging.  Those large plastic bins with drawers can keep many items clean and ready to use. Unfortunately, the look of plastic bins may only reinforce the concept of illness, and how the home has been turned upside down by it.

In cases like this, you can consider having professional work done by a contractor or other company to create a space that is attractive and useful.  Since you are putting money into the home, and for the specific use of the loved one, you are also meeting your financial responsibilities to them.  Many design consultants can help you find ways to store equipment and supplies while keeping the “hospital” out of the atmosphere.  This can be exceptionally good for long-term caregiving, to diminish the focus of “illness” being in the room.

Getting Your Needs Met

Part of meeting the needs of both patient and caregiver comes from company maintenance. The down side of this aspect is that one must be available to have a stranger come into the home to do the work.  Most companies give a general time frame in which they will keep an appointment. This can be tough for anyone with limited time to accept visitors of any kind. 

Companies may not be able to place the caregiver on a regular schedule.  The caregiver who adapts to many other circumstances may not be willing to adapt to having someone come in to check serial numbers or measure pressures.  Discussing the expectations of the company for your availability helps greatly.

Again, this is where superior customer service comes in.  Many companies try to work with their patients and family members.  Companies that refuse to accommodate minor needs eventually lose business, or close entirely. 

The Last Say

In any caregiving situation, comfort of the loved one is most important. A caregiver opens their home, life, and heart to the special loved one in need. An oxygen tank, air compressor, or any other apparatus should be looked upon as a supplement to meet the needs of keeping a loved one well.  The benefits to incorporating these foreign instruments into our home environment work to increase caregiver confidence in handling a loved one’s care in the home.

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