Patient lifting is a vital but potentially dangerous aspect of caring for patients in long-term care facilities. While providing care to residents, healthcare workers frequently engage in lifting and moving patients. While fundamental to the care of those with limited mobility, this can lead to serious injuries. This risk is unavoidable, even when correct patient lifting techniques are used.
Understanding Patient Lifting
Lifting and moving patients is essential to providing them with the freedom to participate in the basic activities of life. Patient lifting is typically performed manually or with the help of assistive equipment and requires the involvement of a provider.
Long-term care facilities provide an especially dangerous environment for patient lifting. Many long-term care residents have serious physical limitations limiting their mobility and requiring staff assistance. The higher degree of assistance needed and increased frequency of transfers make long-term care facility staff particularly susceptible to injuries related to patient lifting.
The Most Common Patient-Lifting Injuries
Most patient lifting injuries are musculoskeletal, affecting muscles or ligaments. These can include sprains, strains, and even fractures. Musculoskeletal injuries often occur due to improper lifting techniques or overexertion. Supporting or lifting a significant weight, often at an awkward angle, greatly increases the risks providers face. Due to the mechanics of patient lifting, some types of injuries are more common than others.
Lower back injuries are particularly prevalent among healthcare workers engaged in patient lifting. These injuries typically occur due to repeated stress on the back. Patient lifting often requires leaning over a bed, bending at the waist, then using the muscles of the arm and lower back to lift a patient across to another surface or up into a sitting position.
Using proper body mechanics, incorporating lifting aids, and regularly strengthening core muscles can help prevent such injuries. The angles at which many lifts occur can make some types of back injury unavoidable, regardless of how strong the provider is or how good their technique is.
Lifting and moving or repositioning patients can strain shoulder muscles and joints, leading to painful conditions like rotator cuff injuries or dislocation. The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, particularly susceptible to injury. Prevention strategies include using correct lifting techniques, and the use of transfer aids and/or mechanical lift equipment.
Repeated lifting and bending can contribute to knee injuries such as strains and sprains. Proper lifting technique often involves relying on leg muscles, increasing strain on the knees. Over time this can increase the risk of knee injuries.
Using lift and transfer devices to reduce the frequency of manual lifting can decrease the overall strain on providers’ knees. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight can help minimize overall knee strain, reducing the risks when additional strain during patient lifting occurs.
The Impact of Patient-Lifting Injuries on Healthcare Providers
The impact of patient-lifting injuries can be serious. Some injuries only lead to short-term effects such as time off work, reduced job performance, and immediate physical discomfort. In the long term, however, they can result in chronic pain and an overall decreased quality of life. In some cases, they can make it impossible to continue working.
Best Practices for Safe Patient Lifting
Safe patient lifting requires a culture of safety in which every stakeholder is involved. Training and education are particularly critical in preventing patient-lifting injuries. Healthcare workers should receive regular training on proper lifting and moving techniques. They also should understand how to use lifting equipment correctly and how to reduce the risks associated with patient lifting.
Another essential component of reducing the risk of patient-lifting injuries is ensuring the availability of high-quality lifting equipment and transfer aids. This equipment can reduce the physical demand on workers and the frequency with which they have to lift and reposition patients manually. Having the right equipment available not only protects staff but also enhances patient safety and comfort by providing a consistent and safer patient lifting experience.
The Role of Technology in Patient Lifting
Technology is continuously evolving, offering better and better solutions for patient lifting. Current technologies, such as hoists and slides, can significantly reduce the physical strain on providers. These technologies create an initial expense to purchase and educate staff on how to use; however, if implemented correctly, they can significantly reduce the risk of injuries to both patients and staff.
The risk of patient lifting injuries is very high in long-term facilities. Recognizing these risks and implementing safe patient-handling practices can reduce the likelihood of such injuries, ensuring the safety of providers and the patients they serve.
We encourage you to reach out to Joerns to see how our advanced solutions can improve the safety and quality of care in your facility. Joerns is committed to helping you train and equip your staff so they can safely transfer patients. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you create a culture of safety.