Ultimate Guide to Purchasing Medical Equipment

Durable medical equipment can provide ongoing support for patients suffering from illnesses, disabilities or injuries that restrict their mobility and normal daily functions, and come in a diverse range of products from self-help tools such as crutches, walkers and grab rails through to complex and expensive devices such as prosthetic and respiratory apparatus.

The range of durable medical equipment is diverse and costs can vary significantly depending on the individual person’s needs and the duration of their illness, but there is no doubt that durable medical equipment can significantly improve the lives of many patients and allow them to live at home with the minimum reliance of carers and family members.

Types of durable medical equipment

Durable medical equipment comes in many different shapes and varieties, and although the term ‘durable’ is used is can also cover disposable, non-durable items that are used in everyday, essential home healthcare.  Therefore durable medical equipment can be split into two main groups:

  • Durable equipment – this includes long-lasting essential items such as wheelchairs, beds, adaptive bikes, walkers, respiratory apparatus, nebulizers, hearing aids and more.
  • Non-durable equipment – this includes disposable or non-permanent equipment such as gloves, rubber/plastic hose (used for equipment such as catheters and nebulizers that needs regular replacement), syringes and more.

Costs of durable medical equipment

Many items of durable medical equipment are inexpensive and can be sourced easily from specialist stores and online providers and these can provide useful items that can help support patients to allow them to carry out everyday functions around the home.  For example grab rails can be fitted to steps, bathrooms and bedsides to provide additional assistance when moving around and getting up and down from a sitting or prone position, and these are easy to source and can be installed by a professional fitter or someone who is good at DIY and understands the need for secure, durable installation.

More specialized forms of durable medical equipment such as hearing aids and prosthetics will need to be obtained through your healthcare provider in most cases and will require a number of fittings and adjustments, and also ongoing maintenance and servicing.  These specialist items can be very expensive, but the benefits they can bring to the patient are vast and they can significantly improve quality of life and assist patients to be more independent in the home and when travelling.

Because durable medical equipment can be so beneficial and useful it is important to check your health insurance and see if you are covered towards any of the costs relating to this kind of equipment, as you may not be able to afford this equipment without additional assistance especially if you need it on a long term basis.  Medicare does provide some financial support towards durable medical equipment that has been recommended or prescribed by your healthcare advisor but you will be restricted to using one of the authorized suppliers and this can mean long delays in sourcing and ordering the equipment you need.  

Also, Medicare, like many insurance companies, may not pay the full costs of the items you need and instead only to cover part of the cost, particularly for very expensive equipment or that which needs regular replacements or servicing.  Most providers will not pay out for non-durable items such as disposable rubber gloves or the tubing needed for catheters, so for example in the case of blood glucose testing machines required by diabetes sufferers providers will only payout for the machine itself and not the additional non-durable supplies that are needed such as the slips the tests are performed on. 

Help with choosing durable medical equipment

If you are unsure what durable equipment would be best for you it is important to talk to your doctor or specialist healthcare provider about the different types of equipment that are available, and which would be most suitable for your individual circumstances.  Many charities can also provide support and assistance for patients that need durable medical equipment and can provide a lot of helpful advice on the different types of equipment available and also may be able to offer some funding towards assisting patients to purchase this equipment. 

Many charities also offer training and ongoing support to help patients develop their skills in using durable medical equipment which offers a number of programs aimed at helping youngsters to adapt to their mobility impairments and disabilities and learn how to use equipment such as customized bikes and wheelchairs.