CHANGING HANDS: When Your Prosthetist Leaves or Your Clinic Changes Ownership

By Elizabeth Bokfi

Human beings come equipped with a natural ability to form relationships, and bonding with others can contribute to a healthy sense of well-being. Choosing prosthetists is not unlike choosing life partners—they’ll see you at your best, they’ll see you at your worst, and you expect them to support you through your ups and downs. There are times when an empathetic response to your personal woes—sometimes referred to as a good bedside manner—can go a long way toward alleviating the frustrations that accompany life as an amputee.

But what happens when your prosthetist moves away or retires? For some, the thought of losing their prosthetist can be overwhelming. It can create anxiety in patients who wonder how the change will affect their care. Losing your prosthetist can feel like losing your life partner. The new prosthetist taking over the clinic may be male, female, an amputee, or not. If the new prosthetist isn’t an amputee, patients may ask themselves, “Will he know what I’m talking about? Will he understand what’s causing my discomfort? Does he really know, beyond being a trained clinician, all the idiosyncrasies that go along with being an amputee?”

Marathon runner Rick Ball, from Orillia, Ontario, had concerns when he learned his prosthetist and long-time supporter of his athletic endeavors would be selling his practice and retiring.

“He was almost a god to me,” says Ball. “He never gave up on me when I had challenges with the prosthesis. I remember going to see him when I was training for marathons—and I was mad. I asked, ‘Why am I getting all these blisters?’”

His prosthetist remained encouraging, reminding Ball of the nearly 75 miles of weekly training he was tracking on his residual limb.

“I knew it would be easy to just give up—but that wasn’t me, or my prosthetist,” says Ball. Having that longtime special bond is what helped him clock his record-breaking 3:01:50 time at the Boston Marathon in 2009.

Any concerns Ball had quickly dissipated following his initial interactions with the new prosthetist taking over the clinic.

“A positive is that the new prosthetist spends much more time on us to make sure we are not rushed; and he addresses all of our needs. Another big one—he’s an amputee himself, which is a huge advantage because he’s been through this and understands how important it is for us to have a good fit.”

Successful patient outcomes occur when the amputee-prosthetist relationship is based on clinical knowledge, empathy, effort, and trust. Still, patients may be resistant to change. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. That being said, it’s not easy being on the other side of things—the new prosthetist taking over a clinic, under the scrutiny of its longtime rostered patients. How does it feel to be the new kid on the block?

Clayton Jobe, a certified prosthetist for five years and a left above-knee amputee himself, recently took over the prosthetics side of Barrie Prosthetics & Orthotics in Barrie, Ontario. Jobe feels earning the patient’s trust is an important factor in the prosthetist-patient relationship, and he feels that having a bond as a fellow amputee makes it easier to be accepted.

“I have experienced the social, financial, physical, and emotional effects of amputation myself, thus I can relate, so it’s very natural to meet new patients. [My] workload was the main challenge. To inherit many patients already in progress—sometimes with incomplete files—can be more exhausting than starting with the patient from the beginning.”

Whether you’re a patient or the prosthetist in a clinic that’s changing, one thing’s for sure—there are bound to be challenges. Ball and Jobe offer tips for amputees whose “life partners” may have retired or moved:

Give the new prosthetist a fair chance. Remain professional. Try to develop a rapport with your new prosthetist. This can be a shared hobby, travel experiences, or simply that he or she is also an amputee.

Welcome the new clinician’s approach to old problems. A fresh mind to an old problem may yield a successful outcome.

Take your prosthetic history records with you if you change facilities. Most clinics can move forward immediately if they know the date you received your previous prosthesis. Treatment may be delayed if you don’t remember the age of your prosthetic device.

Take your previous prostheses to your initial appointment. In addition to providing a visual history, certain components may be reused, reducing your financial burden.

Take a family member who possesses a positive attitude with you to your appointments, especially the first one with a new prosthetist or at a new clinic. This can be greatly encouraging whether you are a new amputee or just new to the clinic. Not all of us are great communicators, and a family member may be able to take notes and provide important information about your history for your file.

Top Image: Ball believes the bond between him and his former prosthetist was a positive influence during his early marathon endeavors. Image by Elizabeth Bokfi.

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