I’ve Had Success with the Bioness L300 Go This Time Around

I’ve Had Success with the Bioness L300 Go This Time Around
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I used the Bioness L300, a functional electrical stimulation (FES) device, for about seven years to counter my left foot drop. I strapped it to my leg just below the knee. As I began to take a step, it sent a low-intensity electrical pulse down a nerve that runs from the knee to my ankle. The pulse forced my foot to flex upward, so it didn’t drag. The L300 worked well for several years. But as my multiple sclerosis progressed, it became less useful and, frankly, more of a nuisance than a help. Yet, it was better than nothing.

In fall 2017, Bioness came out with an improved FES called the L300 Go. I took it for a test walk just before it became available to patients, and, as I wrote in my column, I was disappointed with the results. I didn’t think the improvement in my walking was worth the several thousand dollars — not covered by insurance — that it would cost me to upgrade. But that was then, and this is now.

The L300 Go gets a second chance

Several weeks ago, I met with a Bioness physical therapist and tried the L300 Go again. This time I decided to bite the financial bullet and upgrade. Here’s why:

Bioness is getting ready to end support for the original L300. When I first tried the Go in 2017, I was told that the company would phase out support in about two years. We’re coming up on 2020, so the old unit was living on borrowed time.

My old unit wasn’t performing as well as it once did. It wasn’t simply a case of my MS advancing; the old cuff was becoming more difficult to position correctly on my leg to get the correct amount of stimulation. It was also a real pain to have to move the little plastic disc, positioned under my shoe’s insole to sense motion, from one pair of shoes to another. The L300 Go doesn’t require that sensor as the cuff itself detects my leg motion.

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Bioness L300 Go. (Courtesy of Ed Tobias)

The latest L300 has a three-axis gyroscope and an accelerometer that combine to sense motion in several directions as well as my leg speed. It also has a memory that “learns” how I walk. According to the Bioness website, that allows it to provide “stimulation precisely when needed making it easier for users to clear their foot at different walking speeds, on stairs, ramps, and while navigating uneven terrain.”

The proof is in the walking

I’ve been using the L300 Go for about a month, and the headline is that I’m walking better with it than I did with my old unit. But it’s taken some getting used to. The old unit would trigger on and begin to raise my foot as I removed pressure from the sensor at my heel. With the new unit, the forward movement of my leg triggers the current. So as I begin to walk, I’ve had to learn to slide my left leg forward to get my toes raised, rather than shifting my weight to the right leg to get moving.

With my new device, the current remains on for longer, until my left leg is straight, rather than ending when my heel hits the ground. At first, I found this to be disconcerting, but after a couple of weeks, I got used to it and found that this allowed me to walk better. And the gyroscope and accelerometer do capture my gait and pace and adjust for it. My left leg swings out to the left much less than it used to, and my legs are less prone to cross. It’s also easier to lift my left leg onto a curb.

Get out your checkbook

The L300 Go isn’t inexpensive. With a trade-in of my old L300, my cost was just over $4,000. I think the full price is around $6,000. Most commercial insurance plans won’t cover the L300 Go for an MS patient, and Medicare definitely won’t. (I don’t know if the health services in the United Kingdom or the European Union do). Bioness has an arrangement with the CareCredit system for a no-interest payment plan if you qualify. But in the end, you’re still shelling out big bucks.

I’m fortunate that I can afford it, and I realize that many people who need this useful device can’t. When I received my original L300, I got a used unit from Bioness at half price, but a company rep has told me that the program no longer exists. That’s too bad. It’s also a shame that Medicare, though it covers the L300 Go for someone with a spinal injury, won’t cover it for a person with MS. I doubt that the situation will change anytime soon. Don’t get me started on healthcare costs in the United States. I’d need more than an L300 to travel that road.

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

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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.
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Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.

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10 comments

  1. Herb Leifer says:

    Ed, I too shelled out close to $6,000 for the original Bioness 300. I used it for about a year. Found it somewhat ineffective and difficult to use. If not positioned perfectly the unit simply shocked your leg and did little to lift my foot. For the most part, my foot when it did raise, also turned out. Even when I hit the exact spot perfectly, the unit would shift on my leg after just a little movement, thereby rendering it useless.
    But, what I found most off putting about the Bioness was the company. They demonstrated to me that all they cared about was generating revenue. I knew that this company was in it just for the money when I was contacted by them two weeks into my initial purchase to buy a service contract. They didn’t even wait until the warranty was about to expire. In addition, I was trained on how to properly use the unit at a local physical therapy company here in Denver, where I reside. It took about an hour for them to instruct me on how to use the Bioness and how to get the most out of it. About a month later I received an invoice from them for $220. I was astonished! I was completely unaware that Bioness didn’t pay for this initial training and instead it was my responsibility. To me that’s like buying a car and when the salesman sits with you for about 20 minutes to explain all the features of the vehicle, you get billed for that session. And this after I had paid $6,000 for the unit!
    For these reasons, if other MS patients ask me of my experience with the Bioness, my response is extremely negative. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this product. Buyer be ware!

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Herb,

      I’m sorry to hear about your lack of success with the L300. As I wrote, the unit worked well for a few years but then less so. Only time will tell if the new unit will also fade with time, but it’s helping me now.

      I don’t understand the bill you received from the PT company. For my original unit and for the new model I received a fitting and instruction from a physical therapist who was a Bioness employee at a PT facility (each time a rehab center) that was convenient for me. I had three or four sessions for the first unit. I was told that I could receive several sessions with the PT for the second unit, if needed.

      I’ve heard complaints of poor Bioness customer service from a couple of people on-line, over the years, but I haven’t experienced it myself. On the other hand, the people who I’ve spoken with at their California headquarters seem totally uninterested in taking the steps needed to get Medicare to cover the L300 for MS use.

      Ed

  2. Becky Johnson says:

    I am happy to hear you were able to upgrade to the Bioness Go System. I upgraded a year and a half ago because my L300’s were becoming less effective and these GO systems have been a much better fit for me! In fact, at my last PT appointment last week they measured my walking speed with the GO units against my walking speed with the L300 units before the upgrade. My walking distance before fatigue has increased 30 percent and my walking speed has increased 20 percent. This is encouraging in light of the fact that my MS has progressed and is limiting my ability to walk much more now than it did when I first got my L300 devices (the first in 2013 and the second in 2016) I am also able to climb stairs with the GO system which I was unable to do with the L300. I have had to have some upgrades and fine tuning to fit my gait, but overall it’s been a win for me. It’s more comfortable to wear and I can keep it on for it on longer. I love not having to wear shoes in the house with these devices and I can wear boots in the winter now which I never could do before! I was fortunate that my friends helped me raise funds for the upgrade! After paying for the first units while I was still working, I would have been unable to upgrade without their kind assistance. I do wish insurance would pay for these useful life changing devices!! They deserve coal in their stockings! Bioness customer service for me has still been lacking also in SO many ways. It takes quite some time to get a call back if issues arise and I find that often I know more about what is going on with my devices than they do! There has been a high turn over in technical representatives to this area so I haven’t seen the same one twice! I’m hoping to get an appointment in January to help set the devices so I can more effectively use them as I ride my exercise bike. I truly wouldn’t be walking without these devices and I’m reminded of that fact every morning! My balance is also much better! For that, I am thankful! I hope these are putting an extra spring in your step for the holiday season!! Merry Christmas Ed! Keep up the good fight!

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Becky,

      I remember that you wrote a note about a year ago, when I was ready to give up on the L300, and I’m glad that you saw this column. So far, so good. I chose not to purchase the app that would allow me to use the Go to ride the recumbent bike. Call me stubborn but, after shelling out 4 grand for the Go, I thought that it was awfully greedy for Bioness to charge an extra $25 for the app. No thanks, I’ll do without it. (And I can ride the bike 10 to 15 minutes, occasionally 20, without).

      I feel sad, however, because there are so many of us who can have their life quality improved with one of these units, yet there are no programs, that I know of, to help pay for it. You have some great friends.

      Merry Christmas to you, Becky. Keep walkin’ the walk.

      Ed

      • Jocelyn says:

        Thanks, Ed, for this article & comments. I wore the first (L300?) for the last 20 years of my career. It was great. When the threat came of its being discontinued, my husband & I ‘bit the bullet‘ and purchased both the L300Go & its App (resenting the price of both!) Well, I had given up on making it work & have been struggling without it, of course. Your explanations of the differences between them – differences in stim. times, for instance- have explained some of the problems. I have new hope for how I can use it. By the way, I think that the App is worth it with a step counter & progress info.

        • Ed Tobias says:

          Hi Jocelyn,

          Wow. I didn’t realize the L300 had been around for two decades.

          I’m glad that my experience has helped you a bit. These units are far from perfect but once I figured out that I had to respond differently to the Go, and not try to force it to respond the way the old unit did, it became much more natural and comfortable. As fpr the app, I can count my steps with my smart phone :-).

          Good luck,

          Ed

      • Becky Johnson says:

        Thanks for your timely response Ed! I couldn’t agree more with you about the extra 25 dollars! After a big purchase like that along with the ongoing cost of electrodes, it seems like Bioness could gift us all the app for Christmas! My favorite feature of the app is being able to turn on the vibration setting. I have found especially on the days I have to increase the stimulation level, the vibration eases the stimulation so it’s more comfortable to wear the devices for an extended time. It also gives me a little advance warning before the stimulation kicks in and helps me transition a bit better as I walk. I still ride the recumbent bike with the devices on and even though I don’t have the app set up to do so, it has been working. I haven’t seen a technician since last spring and that one is now working elsewhere so at the moment I don’t know WHO my new one is! I’ve seen 4 different ones in the last 2 years do to staff turnover! It’s a good thing I was fairly familiar with how these work after wearing my first pair of L300s! I also find if I lean forward a bit with each step to activate the stim as I climb stairs I’m actually able to do it! That’s been super exciting for me! My other grand addition this past year has been a Trionic 12ER all terrain walker. Since I live in the country and walk on dirt roads,it’s kept me more mobile! I love the fact it adjusts to all services without the wheels leaving the ground so I can walk over brick walkways and uneven terrain easily. I even took it on a hike at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado this summer(slow but steady)and it was amazing! My EDSS is 6.5, so the Bioness and the new walker I got for Christmas last year has made a HUGE difference in keeping me mobile! It is a Swedish design. Of course, as usual Medicare and my private insurance provider covered none of the cost! I’m glad to hear Ed that the units are working out for you this time. I think has time goes on you will find more and more benefits. I’m grateful for generous friends who have helped me keep walking! I just wish these devices and good walker could be available to all who need them desperately. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas to you as well Ed! May 2020 be known as the year of the cure! Becky

        • Ed Tobias says:

          Becky,

          I’m really glad that you’re doing so well with the cuff and the walker. I hadn’t heard of the Trionic but I’m definitely going to have to check it out. I’m also EDSS 6.5, so it may be a good fit, though I’ve been reluctant to use a walker.

          Merry Christmas to you, too. If 2020 can’t be the year of the cure let’s hope it’s as least the year of easier walking.

          Ed

          • Becky Johnson says:

            I hear you!! I fought using a walker with everything in my being, but after 3 serious falls I decided it was time! It’s actually expanded my horizons and reduced my pain. At my last PT appointment the first of December the combination of the Bioness Go system and the Trionic walker have increased my walking speed by 20 percent and my endurance (distance traveled before stopping due to fatigue) by 30 percent when compared to the same measures in December 2016 with the old L300 units and walking poles. I’m averaging 2 miles a day which is twice what my average was last year at this same time. I think you will find that your walking improves with the GO system! Of course, a cure would be the best news ever! Keeping the hope alive it will happen soon for all of us! Becky

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