Home medical equipment (HME) or durable medical equipment (DME) refers to equipment used by people with medical conditions, physical limitations, disabilities and senior citizens. The home equipment category comprises devices used for patients who are being cared for by non-professionals or family members at home and not a medical institution. As these equipment are used by family members or non-professionals on a repetitive basis, these are also known as durable medical equipment.
Medical supplies such as bandages, irrigating kits, rubber gloves, etc cannot be considered as HME. Home medical equipment is defined as a medically essential; durable equipment, prescribed by the doctor to fill a medical need and appropriate for use in a home. Equipment that falls under this category are air purifiers, air ionizers, nebulizers, oxygen tents, iron lungs, hospital beds, wheelchairs, walkers, seat lifts, patient lifts, oxygen concentrators, artificial limbs, diabetic shoes, crutches, elevating toilet seats, prosthesis, respiratory assist devices, positive airway pressure devices, dynamic splints, bath safety products, etc.
The patient is required to have a doctor's prescription for the equipment needed, however, this is not essential for minor equipment such as canes or walkers. Typically, these home care medical equipment are covered by the patient's healthcare insurance (including Medicare Part B). Often family members discover that the particular equipment is covered under the insurance after it's too late. One can even rent equipment, however, Medicare covers rental charges for only 15 months. HME can be rented for a period beyond 15 months, however, Medicare does not cover the rental charges for it.
Mostly the doctor recommends the supplier for the HME. The doctor knows the patient's physical and overall health condition, and thus provides complete medical prescription with necessary details. For patients discharged from the hospital, a 'discharge planner' will follow the doctor's instructions, and guide the patient regarding the different suppliers available. He will even contact the supplier chosen by the patient's caregiver.
The supplier then contacts the doctor directly and finds out everything about the patient's medical condition, and makes arrangements to deliver the particular equipment home. The HME supplier has an inventory of these equipment, and is more like a pharmacy store. Thus, the delivery does not take time. The supplier will even set up the equipment at home, after checking if the home environment is safe for the equipment. He will even demonstrate the working and make sure the patient and the caregiver understands its working.
If the equipment includes any dangerous aspects, this also will be explained by the supplier. The patient and family members will be given a 24-hour contact number, wherein they can call in case of an emergency due to the malfunctioning of the equipment. The supplier will provide maintenance services such as servicing, refilling oxygen, etc. on a periodic basis. He will also notify the family regarding any alterations in the insurance.
According to Medicare rules, suppliers need to sell equipment to people within a particular vicinity, so that they can deliver supplies as well as maintain the HME in a timely fashion. In the US, several HME suppliers are available, thus patients can receive the HME from local suppliers in their immediate area, without any difficulty. Today, with the advent of internet technology, online retailers are available selling HME.
Patients, family members, and caregivers must be alert and aware of medical equipment, as well as Medicare fraud. Purchasing HME from door-to-door salesmen should be strictly avoided. One must also keep away from suppliers who try to contact the patient before the doctor or discharge planner gets in touch. Since suppliers cannot know the exact requirements of the patient before contacting the doctor, it is advisable to contact them through a doctor or discharge planner only.