Medical Equipment Manufacturers Accommodate Supersized Population

It’s no secret that the American waistline has been expanding for quite some time. In the past 20 years, according to the United Health Foundation, the average American male has gained 17.1 pounds and the average American female has added 15.4 pounds. A recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the CDC shows that 68% of the US population is considered either overweight or obese.

In turn, the obese are thought at greater risk for certain types of cancers, coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, hypertension and stroke, so it stands to reason that this population would have more contact with healthcare professionals and emergency workers.

It takes five people to lift an unconscious 180-pound man, and the average weight of a patient today might be double that or more. It’s unrealistic to send 10-plus emergency workers to an incident, so medical equipment such as ambulance stretchers need to be smarter in design, allowing for easy lift and mobility. Automated stretchers hold more weight but are easier to move. Ramps to roll the stretcher onto ambulances and winches to haul the patient up the ramp are also in use today.

For the patient, comfort and dignity is important. The Obesity Society—a scientific body advancing research into obesity and keeping the medical community and public informed of new developments in this area—recommends that in order to help obese patients feel more comfortable and less stigmatized, medical facilities should “create a supportive health care environment with large, armless chairs in waiting rooms and appropriately-sized medical equipment.”

Medical equipment manufacturers such as Stryker are now supplying newly designed hydraulic stretchers to meet the needs of medical professionals and patients alike. “Five or six years ago our cots were rated for 500 pounds, and now they are increased to 700 pounds, “says Kurosh Nahavandi, a design engineer with Stryker. “The average patient is about 500 pounds being transferred in ambulances.”

The stretcher (or “cot”) of today has many requirements, says Nahavandi. “It has to roll well, it’s got to be small enough to go through apartment buildings, and in addition to that it has to be able to hold the largest of patients as well.”

Stryker has also designed a smooth no-pinch side rail for its cots. The new side rail offers more comfort for patients, and the controls—located on the outside of the rail—allow EMTs ease of use.

It stands a good chance that your nearest hospital has been grappling with obesity for many years, and it looks like medical equipment manufacturers are catching on to the new requirements and demands of an over-sized population. And it’s probably safe to say that as the demand for surgeries like gastric bypass increases in the US, so, in all likelihood, will the need for operating tables that can hold up to 1,000 pounds of human.

Photo: American ambulance car by Masayuki (Yuki) Kawagishi on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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