Caregiving Planning Step 4 Research: Medical Supplies & Devices

Medical supplies, devices and assistive living items range from bandages to ostomy supplies, and from oxygen to walkers and everything in between. The more specialized medical supply items and devices are available through medical suppliers. Some medical suppliers have retail stores, and some provide mail order services. If there is a retail store in your area, it is worth going for a visit just to browse. They often carry assisted living devices that would make life easier for everyone. Examples include chairs that tip forward to help the person get out of the chair on their own and items to make bathing, eating or dressing easier.

If the care recipient is receiving in home nursing care through a government agency, then the nursing staff will order the products. In Ontario, medical supplies, such as bandages and oxygen, are ordered by the Local Health Integration (LHIN) home care nursing staff for delivery to the care recipient's home. Someone will need to be at the care recipient's house to receive the items at any time during the day and sometimes late into the evening. Supplies are often ordered for at least two weeks usage, which means the boxes will need to be stored in a place that is accessible to the home care nursing staff. Some items, such as ostomy supplies are the responsibility of the care recipient and these must be ordered from the medical supply company or pharmacy who may or may not deliver.

Key items to remember when managing medical supplies and devices are:

1. Track Manufacturer, Brand and Specifications

It’s important to keep track of the manufacturer, brand and specifications of the medical supplies that work best for the care recipient. Visiting medical staff may order different brands or recommend items not realizing the impact it might have on the care recipient. Always take the time to explain to the visiting medical staff why a certain medical supply, like a certain brand or type of bandage, is used. The 4ward Care Tracker has pages for recording this information, which I recommend be shared with the homecare medical staff.

2. Track Usage

Track the usage of the medical supplies and always order items at least 2 weeks before you expect to run out of supplies. Some pharmacies or medical supply stores may have to order the item from the manufacturer, which maybe on back order, and the last thing you want to have happen is that the care recipient runs out of supplies at 10PM on a Sunday night with no access to a pharmacy. I'm speaking from experience on this one. Keep track of what was ordered, when and when it was delivered. You can use the worksheets in the 4ward Care Tracker to do that.

3. Ask for Advice

If you visit a medical supply or assistive living devices store, talk with the sales person. They know the products and can call the manufacturer to get answers to your questions. If the care recipient needs an assistive walking device, get a physiotherapist or occupational therapist to recommend the size, height and features of the walking device and have the care recipient try them out at the store. It is worth taking the time to get the right product.

4. Learn How to Use it

I also recommend learning how to use the medical supplies/devices. If the supplies were being used in hospital, have the staff show you how to use it. If practical, try using it while the care recipient is in hospital so you have some practice in a supportive environment. This came in handy when I was called upon more than once to show home care nursing staff how to use the medical supplies. This knowledge also helped ensure consistency in how the medical supplies were used when the homecare medical staff changed.

5. Look for Ways to Defer the Costs

The cost of medical supplies, devices and assisted living items can get costly. Request a letter from your doctor prescribing the items to the care recipient. The physician may charge you for producing the letter, but the cost is worth it. At a minimum, the letter is required for obtaining tax credits on the care recipient’s income tax. Secondly, a number of provinces will help defer the costs based on their Health Care Plans. In some cases, medical supplies are completely paid for by the province, for other items, the care recipient pays a discounted amount or they receive an income tax credit for the expenses. Thirdly, some organizations such as the Red Cross, or the March of Dimes can provide the assisted living devices for free or a low fee. Refer to the Finance Section under the Resources Menu Item on the IM4ward website.

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