Bariatric Products Branch Out

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that in 1999, an estimated 61 percent of U.S. adults were either overweight or obese, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more.

The bariatric market is growing to include products not just for the obese, but also for the caregivers who help them.

It's a scenario that happens more than you think: Dispatchers receive a 911 call and send an ambulance or fire truck to a residence. Upon arrival, the emergency workers find that the person in need of help weighs more than 400 pounds. The person is not severely injured?just a twisted ankle?but has fallen to the ground and can't get up. However, the two paramedics are having a hard time moving the person from ground-level. Calling for additional backup could take valuable time and resources away from the already stretched-thin emergency department. Moving the person could result in serious back and shoulder injuries to both the paramedics and the fallen person. What should they do?

Obesity is a rising epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that in 1999, an estimated 61 percent of U.S. adults were either overweight or obese, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more. In 2000, a total of 38.8 million American adults met the classification of obesity, defined as having a BMI of 30 or more. Obesity is also taking a hold on younger generations. In 1999-2000, the prevalence of obesity was 10 percent among children aged 2 to 5; 15 percent among children aged 6 to 11; and almost 16 percent among children aged 12 to 19.

The growing numbers of obese are more likely to develop health problems?such as heart disease, stroke and osteoarthritis?that could potentially result in heart attacks, falls or other emergencies. When these problems occur, caregivers or paramedics must deal with the situation quickly. Lifting the patient off the floor should not be a major obstacle when every second counts.

In response to these issues, the bariatric market is growing to include products not just for the obese, but also for the caregivers who help them.

A Solution

:Kathleen Dunning, OTR, owner and founder of Oak Pointe Medical Products, knows first-hand about the potential injuries involved in lifting and transferring obese people. As an occupational therapist, Dunning evaluated and treated numerous work-injured emergency service employees from municipal fire departments and national ambulance companies. She recognized that many of the injuries were a result of lifting obese people.

Dunning found a solution to the problem when she teamed-up with David Garman, the owner of Mangar International in Wales. Garman invented, developed and manufactured an innovative product called the ELK, which rides in the majority of ambulances in the United Kingdom. Dunning saw an opportunity to bring a much-needed product to the United States. Her Oak Pointe Medical is now the sole distributor of the ELK in the country.

The ELK can get a fallen patient to a sitting position in two minutes. Using air pillows that inflate through a portable battery-operated compressor, the patient is gently lifted to a sitting position from which he or she can be lifted or moved. The compact, self-contained charging unit has the capacity of four to five lifts per charge. It can lift up to 1,000 pounds, and it completes the lift in less than one minute with minimal noise.

Beyond injury prevention for obese people and emergency workers, the ELK has additional benefits. "The ELK can provide significant, measurable cost savings," said Dunning. "When an employee is injured on the job, workers' compensation costs, health care costs and overtime costs for replacement workers can be staggering?not to mention the risk of injury to the citizens they are trying to help, exposing the city or company to litigation resulting in staggering legal costs." @Feature Subhead:Putting It To the Test

Each year, Southfield, Mich., handles about 100 non-life threatening calls to lift people with obesity. In these situations, "it is difficult to get a good hold on the person because of the lack of muscle tone. Pulling on their arms can injure the shoulder. We don't want to injure the patient while trying to assist them," said Captain Mark Harvey of the Southfield Fire Dept.

In May of 2003, the City of Southfield purchased five ELKs. Together with Capt. Harvey, Dunning developed an accessory kit and patient handling techniques to provide options that would be needed in different rescue situations.

"With the ELK, lifting patients should be a thing of the past," Harvey said. Harvey and the fire department have developed a routine of "zero clearance" lifting, reducing patient handling to lateral, side-to-side transferring as opposed to vertical lifting. @Feature Subhead:Branching Out

At first, the ELK was a product that was only marketed to emergency departments for use on non-injured persons. However, the ELK is now approved to lift injured persons, and Dunning has been given the green-light to market it to nursing homes. The growth and positive feedback for this much-needed product has been overwhelming, she said. So what might the next step be? It seems that the home health care market is a likely destination.

Envision at-home caregivers with the ability to help fallen patients in ways they never thought possible, while still preventing discomfort or injury to themselves.

The Future

While just one example of a product that helps both caregiver and patient, the ELK is indicative of a new crop of bariatric products that help caregivers help themselves. While the patient benefits are sometimes the most obvious to dealers and manufacturers, the caregiver benefits shouldn't be overlooked.

With rising rates of obesity, the market for bariatric products will continue to grow. Manufacturers and dealers should keep in mind that there is a increasing demand for products that extend beyond the immediate needs of the obese person. Home health workers, emergency personnel and other caregivers?especially those who work with bariatric patients?need products that make their job easier and prevent accidents. After all, a caregiver who is injured can't properly care for others.

This article originally appeared in the July 2004 issue of HME Business.

About the Authors

Hadi Husain, PhD, PE, is director of process R&D at ZENON Environmental Inc. Oakville, Ontario. He can be reached at 905.465.3030, ext. 3081.

James G. Spahn, M.D., FACS, a head and neck surgeon, has more than 30 years experience in soft tissue survival. He received his M.D. from Indiana University Medical Center in 1970, and his board certification in Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery in 1975. Dr. Spahn is a renowned speaker with in-depth understanding of the physical properties of contouring surfaces, human anatomy, homeostasis and the pathophysiology of pressure ulcers.

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