Thinking About Quitting My Bioness L300

Thinking About Quitting My Bioness L300

MS_Wire_Ed_Tobias

The L300, made by Bioness, is a functional electronic stimulator. It’s a cuff that I wear just below my left knee. It stimulates a nerve that lifts my foot and helps keep it from dragging.

When I first got my L300 in 2012, it was a blessing. But now it’s more of an annoyance. Back then, the L300 allowed me to walk up and down a grassy slope using just a single cane. I didn’t have to swing my left leg in an arc while I walked. It increased my walking distance and my speed.

Now, more than six years later, I’m using two canes. My overall walking distance and speed have decreased and that grassy slope is nearly impossible, even with two canes and the L300. To put it simply, I’m not getting the bang for the buck that I once got from the cuff. And frankly, it’s a nuisance to strap on and uncomfortable to wear for more than a few hours.

Would an L300 Go be better?

bioness
The L300 Go.
(Photo by Ed Tobias)

Bioness has replaced the L300 with a newer model, the L300 Go. The new unit has several improvements. It has what Bioness calls “3-D motion detection,” and it doesn’t require a sensor in the user’s shoe. Bioness allowed me to test-walk the L300 Go for about an hour in a clinic before it became available to the public. Frankly, I didn’t think it made enough of a difference to my walking to justify shelling out over $6,000 to buy one; my commercial insurance didn’t cover my current unit and I don’t think Medicare will cover a replacement.

But there’s a problem with failing to upgrade. The older unit is being phased out. When I tested the Go, a Bioness representative told me that the company intends to support the original L300 for “at least the next three years.” So, the clock is ticking.

And customer service at Bioness isn’t what it used to be. Just two months ago, a reader commented:

I tried for nearly a month to get the upgrade price information. And never received a return call. That was nearly a year ago. Just today, I received an email saying ‘the L300 Go upgrade program is set to expire on October 31st. Act now to take advantage of this offer. Upgrading is as easy as 1, 2, 3.’ So I decided to give it another shot and call. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. Of course, I couldn’t get through to a rep. Maybe I’ll get an answer before 2020.”

Shortly after this comment was written I, too, tried to reach Bioness to ask about the cost of an upgrade. An email asking about price and trade-in possibility and to be put in touch with a public relations representative went unanswered. (This is a change from earlier years when they were always responsive when I contacted them.)

I have little confidence that my L300 will continue to be supported much longer, especially if I need a repair or a replacement for part of the system.

Can I live without it?

For the past two days, I’ve tried going without my L300. This experiment began because I woke up feeling better than usual. Hauling out a pair of shoes that gave me decent support, I found that I seemed to be walking just as well without the L300 as with it. And I did all day, though a tad slower.

The second day wasn’t as good. I was more tired than usual, and I spent several hours in a car. The result was that I was stiff and slow. Expecting that I’d have a tough day, I’d strapped on the L300 just in case I felt the need for it. And I needed it. I’m glad that I had it.

So, I’m back to square one. The answer to “Can I give it up?” is “Probably not.” At least, not yet. I’d better start saving for a new one.

You’re invited to follow my personal blog at www.themswire.com.

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18 comments

  1. Dave Pitchford says:

    I had a similar experience with the Walkaide device. Very helpful for about a year or so, then gradually saw a decreased response due to gait changes. I went from just using the Walkaide, to adding a cane, to adding dual walking sticks. Gave up on the device and focused more on re-establishing a normal as possible gait. Ended up with hip flexor weakness being identified as the major issue. Foot drop was my presenting symptom , but I think hip flexor weakness and spasticity are my major issues with walking. Slow and steady is now my mantra. Best of luck to you!

  2. Daryl says:

    TERRIBLE CUSTOMER SERVICE, GREAT ladies in our area to fit unit, I have a new pro after getting rid of my older L300, you are completely correct when you say customer service is not near as good ,I started to have had a problem with my calf cuff it only works on 1/2 of the cuff and of course they say this can’t happen but I have worked on electronics for a while there is a reason computer makers sell new computers they break, I’m not wearing it and haven’t since about 4 months after I purchased it, I sure wish they had the quality customer service personnel as a few years ago, ps: there’s no since in calling the GM over the USA he is no help you might as well go see a Walmart greeter

  3. Diane says:

    I have had two AFOs, useless, Bioness expensive and at times a real pain to use to find the right spot (older model) – now I use Elevate drop foot device by Foot scientific, so much better for me personally due to ease of use, you can use in almost any shoe, it works and takes 30 seconds to get it on and only $150.00.

    • Becky Johnson says:

      The new quick fit electrodes make placement much easier. I switched to these when I had my old L300 units bilaterally and it made the fit much easier! You might try getting these instead! I am also using these on my new Bioness Go units and it makes placement easy!

  4. Becky Johnson says:

    I wore the original L300 units for 5 years before upgrading to the L300 Go system. The cost of the upgrade was 8500 and you are so right when you say customer service is NOT what it used to be! Fortunately I was familiar enough with adjusting the units myself by this time! Insurance once again did not cover a dime! I was fortunate to have friends that had seen the benefits for me and raised the needed funds for the upgrade! It’s the only way it would have been possible! The new units are much more comfortable to wear. They have a vibration setting that gives you a little buzz before the stimulation starts and I’ve found it to be much more comfortable!! The new GO units with the quick fit electrodes I can now wear for 10 to 12 hours at a time. The old L300 I was lucky to wear for 6 to 8 with a 1 hour break in the middle. It’s a plus with the GO system that I can wear it without the heel sensors or the controls around my neck. I have better balance on multiple surfaces thanks to the GPS and can walk without shoes which has made me more compliant in using it. I also have less spasticity the more I wear the devices. I use a Trionic walker these days since a bad fall in 2016 (when I was NOT wearing the Bioness) when I am outdoors and a cane or poles when I’m in the house. I’m thankful for the Bioness Go system and it’s impact on my quality of life with MS. With the new GO units, I’ve even been able to climb stairs on a limited basis for the first time in years. I am sorry they have not been more responsive to their customers. I also can wait many days also before getting a return call. I actually had to wait a month and a half after purchasing the devices before someone could fit them for me! I hope in the future insurance coverage will be a reality! I also hope customer service improves! If you DO get a chance to test the GO system ED I would say give it a GO!! I was really amazed at the improvements and after 9 months, I can’t imagine life without my Bioness GO!!

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Becky,

      Thanks for the detailed info. I might have been able to be as detailed, and maybe as positive, in my review of the Go long ago if I’d been able to test the unit for more than an hour and to do it outside of a clinical setting.

      Ironically, the day this column was published I received an email from Bioness encouraging me to upgrade. It asked me to allow them to get an Rx from my neuro so that they could get pre-approval from my insurance company. I responded by asking them if they were aware of anyone with MS getting approval from Medicare.

      I’m sure everyone will be interested in their response.

      Stay tuned!

      Ed

      • Becky Johnson says:

        Thanks Ed for your response! I will be following closely to see if you get approval from Medicare. It didn’t happen for me on private BC/BS insurance OR Medicare. I do hope that can change! It is unfortunate the Bioness GO cannot be trialed outside the clinical area. It’s like trying to buy a car they won’t let you drive out of the parking lot. When I tried out my first L300 unit in 2013, a Bioness representative who was a physical therapist actually came to my house so I could trial it in my home environment. I had 2 months to basically “rent it” until I decided whether or not I wanted to purchase it. It would be awesome if that could happen for people today with the Bioness GO. Maybe once this gets posted you will get another email from Bioness. LOL!! I guess that’s one way to get their attention. I’ve also have been unable to get the NEW Bioness GO application for Apple phones to work successfully. I actually switched recently from an Android to an Apple phone so I could use the app. It allows you to adjust some settings on the device and also functions as a pedometer and goal setter. I was looking forward to using it, but after an hour on the phone with an IT tech from Bioness (when I finally got to talk with one after several days) I could only get it to work for 1 day before it quit again. I think it could be a valuable tracker if I can ever get it to work! I decided to wait until after Christmas to try calling again. I hope you are successful in your quest to really try out the GO system! One of my favorite things about the new system is it basically “goes to sleep” when I am sitting down. The old L300 units would leave my feet in spasms once I sat down and I always had to turn them off and back on. Overall, the GO system has made a bigger difference for me in waking up muscle memory and in day to day mobility. I think you would be amazed at the upgrades after your experience with the L300. I hope Bioness lets you take one for a true test drive soon! Make sure you get the chance to walk around some in your bare feet! It’s a big plus!! My PT noted just yesterday how much stronger the muscles in my feet are this December compared to last year and that has greatly improved my balance! Love walking in my bare feet around the house! Thanks for you patience with my LONG reply! Cheers for the New Year!! Becky

        • Ed Tobias says:

          Hi Becky,

          Thanks for all of that info. I’m really glad that the Go is helping to improve you, physically, as well as assisting you.

          Interestingly, I had a phone call this morning from a Bioness rep. He told me that Medicare approval is “still pretty rare.” Apparently, the chances improves slightly if you have a Medicare Advantage plan but I’m traditional Medicare.

          Like you, when I bought my L300 I was able to rent it for a month or two before deciding whether to buy it. Though they no longer offer that program the rep told me that they will allow you to return a unit during the first 30 days for a refund, minus a $595 re-stocking fee. I think that’s about the same as renting it for a month.

          BTW, I’ve found a trick that allows me to put my L300 to sleep when I’m sitting. If I allow the unit to pulse and raise my foot, and I hold the foot in the flexed position while the unit continues to pulse, it’ll turn itself off. It resumes normal operation when I get up and walk again.

          Happy holidays and best to you for the new year.

          Ed

  5. Becky Johnson says:

    Thanks Ed for that informative tip on quieting the L300 for those still using the original units. I never figured that out! LOL!! I just thought I would share one more PLUS I have found with the new GO system with you. I am able to use the units when I ride my recumbent exercise bike and on the elliptical trainer. It helps me get my heart-rate up and I get a much better workout. I think it has to do with the GPS positioning. Also, with the GO system I’m able to climb stairs, slowly but surely! I lean forward slightly to activate the device as I’m going up and it lifts my foot. I has allowed me to reach destinations I haven’t been able to visit for at least 5 years! I was able to tour a historic house with multiple stairs and no elevator with these GO units. I plan to keep pushing the boundaries with this new technology in 2019! Happy New Year Ed! Hoping 2019 is known as the year of the CURE for MS!

    • Ed Tobias says:

      That’s great, Becky. I’m able to ride a recumbent bike for a short time without the L300. I’d love to see the difference if I get to try an L300 Go again.

      Ed

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