How to Outfit Your Clinic for Safe, Effective Bariatric Care
Medical professionals are well aware of how obesity affects the health of their patients. Doctors and nurses, however, are often unaware of how risky treating obese people can be to their own health. Caregivers who are responsible for obese patients are at increased risk for injury, and it’s important they know how to protect themselves.
Bariatric caregivers at more risk for injury
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurses are seven times more likely to suffer musculoskeletal disorders than other workers. The BLS explains:
"Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), often referred to as ergonomic injuries, are injuries or illnesses affecting the connective tissues of the body such as muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, or spinal disks. MSDs accounted for 29 percent of all workplace injuries requiring time away from work in 2007, compared to 30 percent of total days-away-from-work cases in 2006."
Long story short, nurses are much more likely to injure themselves in a way that requires them to take off work. For those who run medical practices, that means less staff in the office, more workers’ compensation claims, more OSHA filings, and higher insurance premiums. The fact that obesity affects so many different demographics these days means that more doctors — everyone from pediatricians to geriatric specialists — are affected.
Bariatric patients require specialized equipment
There are specially designed bariatric supplies that make treating severely obese patients both easier and safer. Just as a medical supply store sells blood pressure cuffs for large arms, scales that measure into the 500-pound range, and bariatric wheelchairs and transport chairs — there are specialized pieces of office equipment available for clinics that treat bariatric patients.
The easiest piece of equipment to have is a patient lift. Total floor lifts, ceiling mounted lifts, and stand assists are all tools designed to lift your patient so your staff does not have to bear the weight on their own spine. These lifts can typically pick up between 500-1,000 pounds. If you have a patient who weighs more than 300 pounds, it’s dangerous to adjust them without a lift.
Nearly half of all caregiver back injuries come from the seemingly easy tasks of boosting and repositioning. Medical lift equipment reduces the risk of injury by 50-95 percent. In fact, according to Medline Industries, “staff compliance in using lifts drops by more than 90 percent when a worker must travel more than 50 feet to find a patient lift.”
If your patient will be lying down for an examination, you must have bariatric beds, air-powered transfer machines, and/or bariatric-specific exam tables, operating room tables, and stretchers. In addition to examination equipment, your waiting room and office furniture must have sufficiently high weight limits. You will need to look into ramps, extra wide doorways, and clearance for power chairs, bariatric wheelchairs, and those patients who are mobile.
Accommodating obese patients
Using an audit service to assess your facility for the obese and bariatric patient is the easiest way to protect both your office investments and your more expensive investments, your staff. An audit helps with policy, training, and admissions practice in your office. It also promotes your facility as a secure and capable place to serve bariatric patients to the general public.
Using an audit or a resource like a construction contractor who is familiar with ADA compliance will show you which equipment needs to be upgraded if you serve the bariatric community. If you are going to serve the bariatric community properly, you must understand your staff’s physical needs are a priority.