Amputee 101 Vol.1 – How to find a Prosthetist

Written by Beth Hudson LBKA:

Ok, folks, NO EXCUSES! If you’ve had a recent amputation and didn’t have time (for whatever reason, no judgment!) to find a prosthetist, you have plenty of time to find one now. The swelling must go down and stitches must come out before visiting your prosthetist. Use this time wisely. Finding a prosthetist, as anyone who has one will tell you, is akin to finding a doctor. You must have a good relationship with them. They have to listen to you. You have to remember that they work for you. This is especially important if you are an above-knee or higher amputee, as things get, ummm, intimate.

If you are an inpatient at a rehab hospital, prosthetic reps may come to your facility to meet with you. This is a great way to interview, so do it if your facility offers it to you.

First, you will find most of this information in the First Step magazine, published by the Amputee Coalition (you can get one for free!). Get a list of prosthetists/prosthetics companies that are in your area. GOOGLE THEM. This will give you a gut feeling about the facility, and although you shouldn’t judge a book solely by its cover, it’s a good place to start. Call them, and make an appointment to speak with the prosthetist about the facility. Do this interview over the phone/virtually.

Second is the actual phone/virtual interview. Remember that prosthetists and prosthetic companies want to both make sure you have a great prosthesis and run a profitable business. Sometimes this is a fine line! Here, printed by permission from the AC (page 113 of In Motion) are the questions you should ask every prosthetist/company:

  1. How long have you been in practice?
  2. How many patients with limb loss or limb difference do you usually see in a year?
  3. How many patients have you/do you typically see with my particular type of limb loss or limb difference?
  4. Do you have any current patients that I might be able to speak with?
  5. Do you work with specialty prostheses, such as for sports, specific hobbies, or work?
  6. How long does it typically take to receive a prosthesis once the process begins?
  7. How does the process work for a new patient? What is the average appointment time? How many visits?
  8. Do you fabricate in-house or outsource your sockets?
  9. Do you have access to all current prosthetic technology?
  10. Can you offer a list of the options available to me, with the benefits and drawbacks of each?
  11. What are your work hours?
  12. Do you have an on-call for emergencies?
  13. How long does it take to get in for an appointment with you?
  14. If my prosthesis fails outside of work hours, what are your protocols?
  15. How many practitioners are in your facility?
  16. Do you work closely with any specific PTs, OTs, doctors, or surgeons?
  17. Do you communicate regularly with your clients’ health-care teams during the rehabilitation process?
  18. Do you offer/allow trials of different prosthetic devices? If so, can I try them in my home, work, community environment?
  19. Do you accept my insurance?
  20. Do you offer assistance with the insurance claims process?
  21. Do you offer any other new patient resources? Written Resources, Online Resources, Groups for Specific Hobbies or Sports? Any local support groups or Peer Visitors?

PHEW, that is one loooong list! But remember, if you had to find a new PCP, you would be asking very similar questions. I’d like to add one very important question that I hope the AC adds in its next edition because this one bit me in the ass. Most insurance companies only pay 80% of your prosthesis, considered DME (Durable Medical Equipment), which means you pay 20%. A $10,000 leg will cost you $2,000 out-of-pocket. When I purchased my first leg, I didn’t ask if they had a payment plan or took Care Credit. Nope, the proverbial cash-on-the-barrelhead. I had the funds, thankfully. If finding the money for that 20% is difficult, call the AC; they will help you with some resources. If this was an elective amputation, get your financials in order beforehand, if possible.

Of course, these questions are just for starters and will hopefully open up a dialogue between you and the prosthetist. Narrow your search down to two or three, and if you can, make appointments to visit them. Now is the time to physically see the facility and talk with the prosthetist about options and costs. TAKE NOTES.

Third, meet the prosthetist; see the actual facility. If the prosthetist/company does not want to do a virtual/physical walk through with you, buyer beware. If the fitting room looks like a prosthetic junkyard, or the place is not clean, or you get bad vibes (listen to your gut!), then NEXT!

Only after this should you decide which prosthetist/company you think will work best for you. Once your doctor gives you the okay to start the process, you are one step closer to your goal! Don’t wait for the doctor to tell you that you’re ready for a prosthetic. DO YOUR HOMEWORK! (sorry, you can’t take the teacher out of me!). If you feel you need it, have a caretaker help you, and if you don’t have someone who can help you, you can contact the AC.

And remember: you don’t know how much strength you have until you are called upon to use it.