Durable medical equipment (DME) includes items that are used during treatment and recovery of an injury, illness or due to age related problems.

They are typically non-disposable. They are often used both at home and at any location outside of the medical facility.

Equipment can be used by caregivers, family members or the patient themselves.

What Is DME?

The equipment must be reusable and mostly for use in the home of the patient or a long-term recovery unit of a medical institution. With in-home care services on the rise, so are the use of medical equipment needs within the home.

The durable medical equipment industry reached close to 42 billion dollars just last year, with numbers increasing. However, equipment is not the same as supplies.

Durable Medical Equipment vs. Supplies

Durable medical equipment is sometimes confused with disposable medical supplies. While both are needed and used by the elderly, ill and disabled, they are different.

The main difference is that medical supplies are items that help a patient care for themselves, but are disposed of once used. Examples of supplies include blood sugar testing strips for diabetics. Durable medical supplies can also include disposable gloves that a patient or caregiver may wear during a daily treatment.

Supplies can also include bandages, catheter equipment, needles for injection kits and diapers. If it is used once and then thrown away, it is considered a durable medical supply.

Durable medical equipment is prescribed for long-term use to help those in recovery from an illness or injury. In the case of the elderly, durable medical equipment may be prescribed for an infinite amount of time.


Categories of DME

There are many categories of durable medical equipment: mobility aids, personal care aids, prosthesis, orthotics and oxygen equipment.

Mobility Aids are prescribed to patients who have a challenging time walking or who can’t get around well on their own. They are used to assist the patient in getting around physically.

Personal Care Aids can include items that assist a disabled, ill or elderly patient complete their daily hygiene routines. Personal care aids can help a person get in and out of a bath or shower, use the toilet and for added security from falling. They can even include products made to help patients dress themselves.

Prosthetic Limbs enable patients to perform duties that require the limb the patient lost.

Orthotics include footwear to correct a problem or to assist a patient in walking and receiving foot therapy at the same time.

Oxygen Equipment can aid patients who struggle with respiratory problems. Example diagnoses include COPD and asthma.


Specific Examples of Durable Medical Equipment

Hospital beds are a very common piece of durable medical equipment. They can be ordered on a temporary or long-term basis, depending on the needs of your patient. Hospital beds are prescribed for patients who need to remain in a certain position that normal beds do now allow.

Hospital beds also allow attachments needed for patient health or recovery that cannot be attached to normal beds.

To help patients move around, a doctor can prescribe specific mobility devices such as wheelchairs, walkers, scooters and canes.

Specific personal care aids include rods to help patients pull up their own pants and socks. They can also include raised toilet seats for patients who have trouble bending. Bath and shower aids can include handles and shower stools. All personal care aids enable the patient to remain independent.

Artificial limbs are serving over two million Americans today.

Orthotic equipment is often prescribed by doctors for foot therapy and pain relief. Common orthotics include shoe inserts, possibly to help with arch support. Others include heat moldable orthotics, and shoe insoles. If not treated properly, orthotic ailments can lead to hip and back problems down the road.


Who Orders DME?

There are times when a patient will give themselves a diagnosis. Maybe they fell and are struggling to walk without pain, so they may buy themselves a cane. Or, they are afraid of slipping in the shower, so they buy themselves a shower chair.

Many patients purchase durable medical equipment for themselves rather than getting a physician’s prescription. These are the patients who do not mind paying the full cost of the equipment.

Those who do not want to pay, or cannot pay, for equipment will need a physician’s prescription so insurance will cover the costs.

A face to face encounter with a patient is required in order for you to prescribe durable medical equipment. Once you determine your patient needs the device, you put in an order. Most doctors file claims for the patients whose insurance requires it. Durable medical equipment is paid by an insurance company most of the time.


Who Pays for DME?

There are times when insurance companies require the patient to pay for the equipment upfront and be reimbursed for all the costs, or partial costs.

Some insurance companies require an adjuster to determine whether medical equipment is necessary. A good example is with Transcutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulators (TENS). Some adjusters will attend actual patient visits and view x-rays before deciding as to whether the equipment is beneficial to the patient. Once an adjuster agrees it is needed, the insurance company will likely pay the full amount.

Some patients prefer to purchase durable medical equipment out of pocket. They can even purchase over-the-counter durable medical equipment from your office or at the local drug store. Items include:

  • Knee braces
  • Padded seats
  • Blood pressure monitors
  • Hot and cold packs
  • Canes and many more

The durable medical equipment industry is accelerating each year because people are choosing to be cared for in their homes. If they do not have to stay in a hospital, they don’t. Another reason for DME use increasing is because the geriatric population is increasing.

People are living longer, but this may because they have the help of durable medical equipment and supplies, and better healthcare by physicians such as you.

Providing durable medical equipment to your patients is one way you can improve your services, make patient’s lives easier, and show patients their health is a top priority.

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