By Xinxin Yang
Suffering from limb loss is painful, but finding the right person to provide a proper fit with quality prosthetics can be a difficult task in itself for amputees. Some amputees complain that many companies and organizations say they have the best quality prosthetics for clients, but it’s not easy to distinguish whether they are good or not.
Matthew Albuquerque, who has been an outspoken and active professional in the prosthetics industry for more than 25 years, is willing to share his insights to let people get a closer look at the industry.
Albuquerque said he chose his profession because he always wanted to help people in need, and he wanted to find better way to care for amputees. He founded Next Step Prosthetics and Orthotics in 1996. Since then, his company has provided amputee care for thousands of patients across the country and continues to make an impact in this field.
He also operates three amputee centers in New England, and has engaged in many charitable organizations. In 2011, he gave a TED talk on 21st Century prosthetics.
Watch the TED Talk here:
Albuquerque is open to new methods and technologies that could make amputee care better. Next Step is now working with another company called DEKA on a project in designing a robotic arm. The venture is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Together with these efforts, he believes that technologies could make prosthetics better. He shares his thoughts about the latest advancement in the field.
Q: Can you tell me what the latest technology is that your company is applying in making prosthetics?
A: The latest technology available is bionics with three examples listed below:
The first example is called The Biom ankle and is bionic technology. The Biom ankle is the only prosthesis with powered propulsion for enhanced mobility.
The second example of bionic technology is called The DEKA Arm or the “Luke Arm.” This bionic/robotics technology and has been developed for upper extremity amputees by DEKA working with prosthetists from Next Step and biodesigns, inc. and is a DARPA-funded project.
The third example is called the Genium and is also bionic technology but with a microprocessor. The Genium is an above-knee prosthesis controlled with a microprocessor. It has an accelerometer and a gyroscope that intuitively know where your leg is in space, using the same technologies from Wii gaming systems and smart phones, for a virtually natural gait.
Q: Who are your major clients?
A: Our clients come to us from every walk of life and every age range. Some clients have genetic limb defects, others have lost limbs due to illnesses such as diabetes, others have had circulatory issues and others have lost their limbs due to traumatic injuries. We receive referrals from various physicians/facilities in the area and also have clients who have chosen us based on their own research. These clients fall into several brackets based on insurance types – the graph below demonstrates that break down:
Q: What is the price for more advanced prosthetics?
A: Pricing for prosthetics varies greatly depending on several factors. Ballpark figures for a BK (below knee) prosthesis is between $6,000 and $50,000. Figures for an AK (above knee) prosthesis is between $8,000 and $100,000. Upper extremity prosthesis pricing varies as well depending on the amputation and what the client would like to be able to do.
Q: Can every patient afford those cutting-edge prosthetics?
A: Each client’s ability to afford prosthetic care depends on their insurance coverage, ability to self-pay, and the circumstances surrounding their need for prosthetic care.
Q: How do you view the future of bionic prosthetics?
A: I see the future of bionic prosthetics moving towards robotics that will be directly wired to our nervous system. An example of this is BrainGate where the goal is to implant neural interfaces directly into the brain.
Q: What other possibilities can we anticipate?
A: Other possibilities we can anticipate are a sense of touch. Being able to feel hot and cold while wearing a prosthesis.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing this industry?
A: The biggest challenges facing this industry are insurance reimbursements. As technology increases, so do the costs associated with it. Getting insurance companies to approve payment for the newest advances in technology is difficult.