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Bionics for Everyone: Prosthetics and Purchasing Power

When you’re looking for an electrician or plumber who won’t rip you off, you can read the customer reviews at Angie’s List. If you want to know what other travelers think about a restaurant or hotel, there’s TripAdvisor. Before you click “purchase” on a new laptop or phone, maybe you check the ratings at CNET or Consumer Reports.

But when you’re shopping for a new prosthetic device, where can you find a range of opinions from other amputees?

Wayne Williams is working to make Bionics For Everyone (BFE) the go-to consumer resource for choosy prosthesis shoppers. He’s compiling opinions about bionic limbs from hundreds of amputees, via online user satisfaction surveys that only take a few minutes to complete.

bionicsforeveryone.com

“We focus on some pretty core issues,” Williams says. “How happy are you with your device? How many repairs have you needed? Would you buy the same device or same manufacturer again?” By collecting uniform data from a broad sample of amputees, the BFE surveys can help individual patients find the prosthetic limb that best suits their own needs. Over time, Williams hopes, they’ll give customers a voice that can make the industry more responsive.

“We have to get amputees to start feeling their power as a consumer group,” he says. “They have power, they just don’t realize it.”

At present, amputees are dependent on prosthetists’ opinions, manufacturers’ marketing materials, and insurers’ whims when they’re shopping for a device. That’s especially true for new amputees who are entering the marketplace for the first time, at a point when they’re already overwhelmed with major life decisions. 

“You’ve got a ton of trauma to deal with regarding your career, your relationships, your finances,” Williams says. “You’re incredibly vulnerable. And you’ve only got maybe 2 percent of your bandwidth to deal with this decision.”

Regular readers of Amplitude’s weekly newsletter are familiar with BFE, a year-old website that provides authoritative consumer information for non-experts. The site’s product reviews, scientific explainers, technology updates, and other content provide invaluable guidance for amputees who want to understand advanced prosthetics. 

The user satisfaction surveys represent yet another tool for understanding bionics. Unlike the anecdotal input you might gather on Facebook or at a support group, the BFE surveys offer unbiased, statistically valid customer input. Williams doesn’t publish his results until he has enough responses to cross a reasonable threshold of statistical significance, and he vets the data carefully to avoid ballot-box stuffing.

So far, only one device—the Ottobock C-Leg—has garnered enough reviews to give a fair, balanced picture. But the numbers are close for many of the roughly 50 other devices on BFE’s survey list. That’s where you come in. If you’ve learned some things about your current device that can help other amputees make a smart choice, complete a survey. 

Find the surveys online at bionicsforeveryone.com.

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