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Powered patient transport equipment can help prevent on-the-job injuries

Power cots and loading systems assist with lifts to reduce opportunity for occupational sprains and strains during patient transport

The following is paid content sponsored by Stryker.

By Shawna Renga for EMS1 BrandFocus

Work-related injuries cost EMS providers time, money and experience, and many careers in emergency medical services are cut short by injuries sustained on the job.

Powered patient transport equipment can reduce the frequency of on-the-job injuries that commonly occur among EMS providers.
Powered patient transport equipment can reduce the frequency of on-the-job injuries that commonly occur among EMS providers. (photo/Stryker)

In addition to the expense of workers compensation claims, injuries that keep experienced providers out of the field reduce the overall skill level of the organization, and injuries among younger, inexperienced employees can make it difficult for EMS organizations to grow and develop their workforces.

Lifting: The Root of Most Injuries

About half the on-the-job injuries sustained by EMS providers occur while lifting and moving patients. Many factors make patient lifts and moves potentially dangerous for EMS workers. Austere environments, patient size, provider strength and the equipment used during the lift or move all can influence the likelihood of provider injury.

While injuries to the upper and lower back continue to be the most common type of occupational injury for EMS providers, injuries to the arms, legs, hands and feet follow close behind. Sprains and strains are the most common type of injury, and more than half of all sprain and strain injuries are related to interactions with a patient.

Injuries occur when raising and lowering a patient on the cot, loading and unloading the cot, and transporting a patient up or down stairs. Strains and sprains to muscles in the trunk, arms and legs frequently occur during these lifts.

Even without a single traumatic injury, the constant lifting, pushing and pulling of patients and cots takes a significant toll, and EMS providers can only do so much when it comes to training in ergonomic lifting techniques or hitting the gym to build strength.

Let’s take a look at three transport tools available to lighten the load:

Powered Cots

Traditional, manually operated cots and stair chairs place the burden of lifting and moving a patient solely on the health care provider. Many of the hazards that occur during patient lifts and moves can be mitigated by the use of powered cots.

Power cots greatly minimize or eliminate the strength and exertion required to raise and lower a patient once secured on the cot, allowing providers to avoid risky lifts that may cause injury.

For example, Stryker’s Power-PRO XT lifts and lowers the entire cot with the push of a button using a hydraulic system. A pneumatically assisted back rest allows the provider to help a patient sit up without manually supporting all of the patient’s weight. Both features minimize strenuous manual lifting, which reduces the risk of back and other related injuries.

Other ergonomic features further minimize provider strain, such as angled lift handles and wheels that require less roll force (and thus less pushing and pulling) to reduce the risk of provider injuries.

Enhanced Stair Chairs

Transporting a patient up or down stairs presents an even more hazardous situation, requiring providers to both lift the patient and navigate stepping up or down the stairs.

Traditional stair chairs require the patient to be fully supported by those carrying the chair. Most stair chairs also require one of the providers to step backward during the move, adding to the complexity of the process.

Patients also may experience increased anxiety when being carried up or down stairs, requiring providers to devote some of their attention to reassuring the patient.  

This combination of factors creates a significant risk for injury to the arms, legs and back when moving a patient up or down stairs.

A built-in track, such as the one on Stryker’s Stair-PRO, allows the majority of weight to rest on the stairs while the patient is lowered. The collapsible track is equipped with treads that create friction, which assist the provider in guiding the patient down the stairs without lifting. This reduces overall strain on providers and simplifies the moving process, minimizing the risk of injury.

Power Loading Systems

Lifting and lowering the cot into and out of the ambulance is a significant source of injury for EMS providers. Fully automated, powered cot loading systems literally do the heavy lifting, completely eliminating this common cause of injury.

For example, the Stryker Power-LOAD cot fastener system secures and loads or unloads the cot and provides visual indication to the provider when the patient is secured in the cot fastener or ready to be released. The loading system meets ambulance crash test standards and can be used with both powered and manual cots.

Supporting the cot throughout the loading and unloading process helps prevent provider injuries and improves patient safety by supporting the cot until the wheels are on the ground.

Powered patient transport equipment greatly reduces the physical strain on EMS providers. Look for equipment that meets SAE safety standards and provides a solid warranty.

Taking steps to prevent or reduce on-the-job injuries helps keep costs down by avoiding costly claims and, more importantly, keeps knowledgeable, experienced providers in the field to deliver the highest quality of care for patients.

About the author

Shawna Renga, AS, NREMT-P, currently teaches at the University of San Francisco Emergency Medical Technician Program in San Francisco. Previously she worked as the assistant program director for the EMT program at the San Francisco Paramedic Association. Shawna also works as a paramedic for a private ambulance service in Marin County, Calif. 

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