Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lifting Patients Too Dangerous To Be Done Safely?

A few weeks ago, I came across an article titled “Even‘Proper’ Technique Exposes Nurse’s Spines to Dangerous Forces”. Not unexpectedly, it started with the story of a nurse that was injured on the job while trying to help move a patient in the intensive care unit despite using the “proper lifting technique” taught in nursing school. The injury was quite serious, requiring several surgeries, and jeopardized her career. The article then talked about a research study that suggested it is impossible to lift patients safely with just human body mechanics. It went on listing several reasons why and also described the compressive forces that people’s spines are subjected to when lifting patients. It even noted that lifting in teams does not reduce those forces to safe levels while increasing shear forces, a force our spines are more vulnerable to. It basically concluded with the idea that we need mechanical patient lift devices throughout the hospital to make it safer, but not necessarily 100% safe, for workers to move patients around.

As I read the article, I reflected on my experiences working in the hospital, especially the times I helped move comatose patients weighing 300, 400, or more pounds. I’ll tell you, it’s definitely not easy to do, even with 4 or more people. Most healthcare professionals know what proper lifting mechanics should look like but with the way patients are located and positioned, it is not always possible to use optimal lifting mechanics. If you’re lucky, you may have a patient hoist handy but even then it’s not necessarily trivial getting a person into it in the first place. Sometimes you are able to figure out a way to use bed sheets and have enough people around to help push and pull, slowly working the patient into the best position for the actual move. Whatever the situation may be, lifting a person is nowhere near as mechanically simple as deadlifting a barbell at the gym.

So what’s the answer? I don’t know if there is a failproof solution, at least not with our current technology. Mechanical lifts will definitely help but there are limits to those. First of all, they are quite expensive so they aren’t available everywhere in the hospital. Second, they do have weight limits which some patients exceed. Finally, there is always the issue of getting the patient loaded onto the lift. Despite these problems, hopefully they’ll become more widespread so healthcare professionals can work more safely, and for longer.

Meanwhile, I strongly urge all of you to do your best to stay in good physical condition. It is your best chance of protecting yourself from serious career-ending injury. Make sure you exercise regularly. When you work out, focus on your functional strength throughout your entire kinetic chain. Substantial core strength and a strong kinetic chain will help reduce the micro-damage on your spine when lifting patients. The less damage you take, the less likely you’ll suffer a debilitating injury. DO NOT just do cardio. Cardio is not going to help you here and it can actually make things worse if you ignore strength training.

As a healthcare professional, you’re probably very busy. But for you, exercise is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Think of it as part of your job. It’s no longer just about looking good, but keeping you, your career, and your patients safe.

No comments:

Post a Comment