New Technology Floats Overweight Patients on a Cushion of Air

America is facing an increasing problem. According to the surgeon general one in every three adults are considered to be obese, placing a significant burden on our healthcare system. There can be no doubt that obesity is an ever-increasing problem in America today. But what exactly is “obesity”? It’s defined as being overweight by at least 20 percent. Overweight 20 percent may not sound like very much but obesity is as simple as that. Morbid obesity is something else entirely. Morbid obesity is a disease. Morbid obesity is defined by being 100 pounds or more over ideal weight. Associated with morbid obesity are a variety of medical problems that go along with it. Among these conditions would typically be higher cholesterol, diabetes, and even possibly sleep apnea.

And while the complications associated with morbid obesity can be grave for the patient, obese patients present difficulties to hospitals and healthcare facilities. And unfortunately more and more of them are requiring hospital stays. In addition to patients who require hospitalization due to disease conditions, more and more individuals struggling with obesity are turning to a surgical solution. This has lead to a profound increase in the overweight population in hospitals and acute care facilities, creating a problem for the staff. Moving such large patients is difficult, and can even be dangerous to both the caregiver and the patient. According to hospital administrators, “Patients who are arriving at the ER or at the admissions desk at hospitals today tend to be of greater and greater weight. Thus providing a number of challenges to the hospital, some of which are having specialized equipment to manage the obese and of course the morbidly obese.” At US Bariatric-Holy Cross Hospital, and dozens of other facilities nationwide that specialize in the treatment of the obese, staff members are using a specialized mattress to address the issue of overweight patients. Designed and manufactured by a company called Hovertech, it is based on the lifting and lubricating properties of compressed air. Dave Davis president of the company explains the principle. “The Hovermat works by the release of low pressure air and that air is put in into a transfer mattress with the mattress deflated, the air inflates the mattress, lifts the patient off of the surface and at the same time the air comes out 4000 little holes in the underside that act as a lubricant to help eliminate friction. It’s very similar to an upside down air hockey table or to a hover craft going across the water.” I tried one of these myself, with an average size person lying on top of it, and I was literally able to slide him from one bed to another with one finger in the strap of the mattress.

Many healthcare facilities are finding themselves critically understaffed. The hover mats are designed to maximize the use of existing personnel by minimizing absenteeism due to job related injures, and reducing the number of persons required to move a heavy patient. “Robert Fulton, OR Technician at Holy Cross. “I actually hurt my back moving patients that were too heavy about a year and a half ago that’s when we got the hovermat in and it’s made my life easier, made my job easier. We don’t actually need any more then 2 or three people to move the patient now, and we are usually moving patients who weigh over 400 pounds. The hovermat is the safest thing I have ever seen to move the patients over from the gurneys to the OR table.”

With technologies like these in place patients can receive care in a safer manner, it’s easier to move a patient without struggling and without the staff putting themselves at risk to assist a heavier then normal sized patient. Doing more with less has been the hallmark of many technological advances. Today, medical professionals and design engineers are working together to develop products that are giving an overburdened healthcare staff a much-needed lift.

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