Advice for procurement teams on how to specify the right assistive tech products
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest global assistive technology guide contains information for procurement teams on how to choose the right products to meet users’ needs.
This landmark guide contains specifications for 26 prioritised assistive products and describes the minimum quality requirements for manufacturing.
The 26 prioritised products listed were identified from WHO’s previous work with the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) on drawing up a priority assistive products list (APL) in the UK.
As identified from the APL, products in the guide range from rollators, hearing aids and portable ramps through to wheelchair seat cushions, walking frames and shower chairs.
However, alongside detailing product-specific information in the document, WHO has provided some general advice for procurement teams on developing procurement specifications. This section includes helpful information on: choosing the right product to meet users’ needs; ensuring quality and safety; ensuring successful service provision; and environmental impact.
AT Today has highlighted some of the key guidance in this section of the document for procurement teams below.
Procurement teams should clearly describe the assistive product, intended use and what it should be able to do. This description of the product’s general features should give enough detail to identify the product’s function and characteristics, but also be generic and not biased towards a brand or design.
WHO says that a general specification encourages competition and innovation and also gives suppliers the opportunity to offer innovative assistive products that may be new to the market.
The UK Government is currently consulting on plans to overhaul procurement rules in the UK. As part of these plans, the government is looking to make the procurement process easier for SMEs to enter to drive local growth and promote innovation, which applies to selecting a provider for assistive technology services.
Product functional and design requirements
Further discussing developing procurement specifications, the guide reads: “A range of products may be included. For example, wheelchairs can be assistant-controlled or self-propelled and come with additional postural support. There are further variations for use in different contexts (e.g. urban, dual-terrain and rough-terrain wheelchairs).
“The product range should include options to meet the different functional and environmental needs of a wide group of users. The capacity of local services to provide the product range is an important factor in decision-making.”
WHO adds that when defining product functional and design requirements, the typical user or intended use of the assistive technology product should be stated, including product characteristics and configuration requirements. It says that while descriptions of the typical user are helpful when selecting the product range and quantities to be procured, selection of the best product to meet an individual’s needs are part of the service provision process.
When defining a typical user, procurement teams should consider relevant health conditions, functional difficulties, age and size range. Where possible, the intended use of the assistive device should be outlined too, such as indoor or outdoor use.
The guide reiterates that enough detail about characteristics and standard configuration should be provided to differentiate between devices; the description should focus on function and performance without prescribing a specific design. Again, this is to encourage innovation and competition amongst suppliers.
“The procurement specification should not require specific materials to be used, mechanisms of functioning, size or weight of the product,” the document underlines. “Where relevant, however, information that is important to achieve certain quality standards or functions may be required.”
According to WHO, each assistive technology device should be adapted in accordance with the local population. For instance, taking into account the local demographic’s maximum weight load and dimensions for mobility and self-care products.
The guide also says that procurement teams’ design requirements should generally apply to all product variations, which need to be safe, durable and work effectively. Additional design requirements to allow for adjustment and customisation are useful considerations for certain products, WHO continues, particularly for complex assistive products.
Specific examples for additional design requirements are provided in the guide for further reading.
Quality and safety
To ensure assistive technology devices are fit for purpose, the procurement team should identify and select the appropriate national, regional or international standards to be used in the procurement process.
WHO explains: “Procurement of assistive products and related services should be carried out in accordance with national policies, laws, rules and regulations. For instance, within the European Union (EU), public procurement must comply with EU rules and regulations for the region. It is important to conduct thorough research into local regulations that may be in place.”
Furthermore, suppliers should be required to provide a certificate that clearly states the product complies with the terms of the procurement specification (which should reflect applicable regulations and standards), and state that it is safe and effective for the intended use. The certificate should be signed by an authorised representative of the supplier.
A certificate or declaration of conformity is a legal document signed by the supplier that confirms a product conforms to applicable national or international regulations in the country where it is procured.
If products do not comply or are not tested according to relevant standards, or if they deviate from the procurement specification, the supplier should provide an explanation to the procurement team, the guide states.
Additional product requirements
Information on weight and size of the product is needed for planning on transportation, storage and service provision. The procurement specification can also describe which measurements to use and how measurements should be taken to avoid misunderstandings and ensure all suppliers provide measurements in the same way so they can be compared, according to WHO.
For products with changeable sizes, such as folding mobility scooters, it is useful to have the dimensions in different modes for transportation or storage. Overall weight and dimensions of the product in its operation mode and in transportation (with packaging) should be required. Wherever applicable, additional measurements can be specified.
The guide continues that suppliers should supply information for service providers about how to select, assemble, fit and adapt the assistive product. Where applicable, suppliers should also provide maintenance, repairing and refurbishing instructions, WHO notes.
“Instructions for use for users and caregivers should be required,” the guide further outlines. “These should be supplied with each product in the form of a product user manual. Instructions usually include how to use, maintain and clean the assistive product safely and effectively.”
Suppliers should also disclose warranty details, including the accessories and spare parts included with the product. It adds that suppliers should be required to repair any broken parts of the assistive device during the warranty period, without expense to the user.
In addition, the guide says that knowing the lifespan of the assistive technology product is useful when planning procurement and service provision.
Delivery time should be specified by the procurement team based on local knowledge.
Maintenance, repair and refurbishing
WHO states: “Regular maintenance, repair and refurbishing are essential to prolong the life of assistive products.”
The organisation says that these services should be detailed in the procurement specification for product manufacturers or suppliers where feasible and cost-effective. This is particularly important for complex rehabilitation devices where skilled staff are needed to carry out the work.
Moreover, the procurement team should identify the need for services and define the scope of what is to be provided by suppliers, including the timeframe and frequency, and require suppliers to provide a cost estimate in the bidding. This could include details of payment (per hour), travel expenses (e.g. fuel charges, hotel bills), rules to cover several services completed on the same route, and cost of spare parts (if not covered under warranty).
“Suppliers must indicate how these services will be provided,” the guide continues. “If services are to be subcontracted, they must provide information on the subcontractor, including terms and conditions.”
Assistive device training
Suppliers can play a role in training service providers and this requirement should be included in the supplier’s contract, especially for especially complex products, WHO advises.
The scope of training should be clearly defined in the procurement specification and may include training on assessment and selection, fitting, adjustments and adaptations, user training, and maintenance, repair and refurbishment.
User training on use and care of assistive products should be given by local service providers. However, if this is not possible, the procurement specification may request suppliers to include user training as part of their bids.
The supplier should also be required to provide a product user manual, giving clear instructions on using and maintaining the product.
WHO also recommends: “Suppliers should consider whether a product is biodegradable or whether there is potential for recycling at the end of its use. When products reach the end of their lifespan, disposal must be safe and effective.”