Tuesday, March 24, 2009

iBOT no longer being sold

This news is a bit old, but I wanted my readers to know about it. Thanks to New Mobility for the story:

Independence Technology, LLC, owned by the respected Fortune 500 company Johnson & Johnson, will cease marketing and selling its iBOT Mobility System effective January 2009. Company officials cite as reasons insufficient demand and inability to get reimbursement from Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We worked on getting reimbursement so long. We were very diligent on working with members of Congress, Veterans Affairs and government agencies that do provide reimbursement for wheelchairs,” says David Swearingen, vice president of J&J corporate communications. “We came to a point where we didn’t see what the next opportunity was going to be.”

Swearingen says since its commercial introduction in 2003, the iBOT “sold well into the hundreds.” According to a reliable source, only 400 were sold by late 2007 in the U.S., and J&J lost millions of dollars on the project.

Critics of the iBOT — marketed as a stair-climbing wheelchair — point out that many wheelchair users who would have used the power chair do not have the strength or ability to assist themselves in the stair climbing process, as the system is designed.

“It’s a stair assist, but you could also do it yourself [only] if you have the upper body strength,” says Tony Bianchini, company spokesman. “But your assistant is also trained on how to navigate the iBOT up the stairs. It’s more of a technique than having strength.”

Adds Swearingen: “While still in development stage, perhaps it could have been fine-tuned to improve on that [stair-climbing] technology. We think we made a lot of advances [in wheelchair technology]. That’s how technology works, you keep working to improve it.”

Swearingen says the licensing will go back to iBOT designer Dean Kamen, who was unavailable for comment. In the meantime, J&J’s Independence Technology will honor orders made in 2008, making deliveries until March 2009. Technical support and service to iBOT owners will continue until 2013, when the company will close.