How to Ensure Safety for Bariatric Patients

Sponsored by Big Boyz Industries

As obesity increases so does the need for providers to serve bariatric patients. HME providers are increasingly contending with the fact that Americans are getting larger, and thusly their patients are getting larger.

Naturally, the industry has responded to increasing numbers of bariatric patients by increasing the weight capacity and size of various HME products, such as walking aids, wheelchairs and scooters, in order to make them suitable for the overweight patients.

However, there is another crucial bariatric consideration, and that is ensuring safety, which requires a whole new learning curve. Simple activities, such as standing or sitting down, can pose a risk for serious injury for severely obese patients. Danger spots can range from the bedroom to the bathroom and everything in between.

Morevoer, ensuring safety isn’t just limited to the patient, but their caregivers, as well. HME that is designed for bariatric patients also keeps their caregivers in mind, since they too can be hurt through falls or muscle pulls. If you consider the average caregiver trying to care for a patient weighing 350 pounds or more, you can see that caregiver can run numerous safety risks if the proper precautions aren’t taken. Here are some important considerations:

The bariatric population is significant. It is almost becoming cliché to say that Americans are getting heavier. While there are not solid statistics on the number of morbidly obese Americans — those weighing 300 pounds or more — there are some useful statistics on the number of American adults age 20 or older that are declared as obese.

Obese means a person has a body mass index, the statistical measure of a person’s weight scaled to their height, of 30 or more. In that regard, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports obesity rates for adults age 20 and older are 34 percent.

Chairs. While a chair seems like an innocuous piece of household furniture that is far from threatening, they are a common source of injuries for both bariatric patients and caregivers. The standard sitting position requires bariatric patients to lift their body weight from a somewhat awkward position.

And if a caregiver helps them, that caregiver also is put in an awkward position for lifting. The caregiver can hurt his or her back trying to help a patient stand out of a chair, and the patient can put a tremendous amount of weight on their knees.

Motorized lift chairs that also recline are an excellent solution. The patient can adjust the reclining of the chair in order to shift his or her weight, which prevents strain. And, when the patient is ready to stand, rather than try to lean forward and lift their weight or call on a caregiver, the chair can lift the patient up while tilting to help ease the patient to a standing position, without straining the patient’s legs, knees or ankles. Meanwhile, the caregiver is clear of an safety risk, too.

Beds. Bariatric patients risk injury if they fall from bed, and getting in and out of a normal height bed can pose similar risks as getting in and out of a chair. So, bariatric beds are manufactured to not only support bariatric patients’ weight, but also with a low deck-to-floor height. A lower bed helps minimize the impact of any falls. Bariatric beds can also incorporate additional features, such as trapeze bars that patients can grab onto in order to help lift themselves up.

The bathroom. The bathroom is an extremely dangerous place for bariatric patients and the caregivers that might be assisting them. Falls are the big risk, and if a bariatric patient tries to grab a typical sink, it will not be able to support his or her weight. Strategically position sturdy grab rails that can support the patient’s weight throughout the room.

Likewise, when a bariatric patients needs to use the toilet, they must lower and then lift themselves from the toilet, which is another reason why they will need grab rails. Moreover, the toilet must be a special bariatric unit that supports their weight.

A shower chair or bench is also critical because the prospect of sitting in a tub also has injury potential. With a chair or bench, the bariatric patient can bathe with confidence, and if the patient requires bathing assistance from a caregiver, having the patient at a sitting height will not only provide better access to the patient for purposes of bathing, but also help them bathe the patient more safely, since they will not be leaning over at odd angles in a slippery environment.

Educate your patients and caregivers. Education is also important when it comes to patient and caregiver safety. While providers are on a learning curve when it comes to safety, so to are patients. Make sure you regularly update your patients on what solutions are available, since their only exposure to the latest HME might be in the clinical setting. So, make sure you also update caregivers and referral sources regarding safety solutions, as well. Consider offering bariatric patients free safety reviews so that you can let them understand potential safety risks and their solutions.

Points to take away:

  • As the population of bariatric patients is on the rise, providers must offer solutions that ensure patient and caregiver safety.
  • Lift chairs can prevent various injuries that can be caused simply from sitting down and getting up.
  • Beds with a low deck-to-floor height minimize injuries from falls.
  • The bathroom poses a number of injury risks. Grab rails, toilets that can support heavy weights and shower chairs can help ensure patient and caregiver safety.

Learn More
Check out these solutions centers for information on caring for bariatric patients and safety:



This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of HME Business.

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