It’s no secret that moving bedridden patients is one of the hardest parts of being a nurse. The average American weighs 181 pounds, and that’s a lot more than the average person can lift. These kinds of tasks can lead to back injuries and a lifetime of pain. In fact, nursing assistants and orderlies are around 3x more likely to suffer back injuries than construction workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another study found that workplace injuries cost the healthcare industry over $13 billion annually and $2 million in lost or missed work days.
America also has an obesity problem. Many overweight patients wind up in the hospital with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, but how’s a 5’5” nurse supposed to lift a man that weighs over 300 pounds?
A new startup from Durham, North Carolina is here to change that. Seneca Devices has created a new device that can lift, turn, or rotate patients with the press of a button.
Working the EasyShift
The company, founded in 2017, is calling the product EasyShift, which can move a patient in just one step, unlike other machines and methods that require multiple moves or people to complete the same task.
“This has been a problem forever,” said Seneca founder Samuel Fox. “But once patients started becoming older and obesity rates increased, it really highlighted the issue.”
The machine attaches directly to the patient’s bed and mattress. It works by moving air up and down so that the mattress lifts or rotates the patient to their side. It’s like having a moving bed, which is critical to patient safety. The soft mattress won’t rub against their skin, reducing the risk of abrasion, especially if the person has thin skin.
Nurses know that many patients have to be moved or repositioned every two hours to support circulation and prevent bed sores. That can be quite a time suck when it takes several minutes or more to move a patient and you have several more on your rotation.
EasyShift is designed to simplify the process, so you can quickly reposition the patient without calling for backup.
“We’re supposed to move patients every two hours, and you might need like four people to move somebody. That’s a lot of resources. If we can make that more efficient, it’s good for patient care,” adds Ryan Shaw, the director of the Health Innovation Lab at Duke University’s School of Nursing. Shaw and his team have been working with Seneca Devices to test EasyShift as it makes its way to market.
Shaw estimates the device can help reduce labor costs by $40,000 per bed by reducing how many workers it takes to move a patient. He didn’t factor in the potential savings from preventing workplace injuries.
The product can also help patients feel more comfortable when eating or talking with others. Shaw noticed that many people would sink down in the bed when they were in the inclined position.
“It was originally just to turn people, and then when Sam started talking to the nurses,” Shaw said, “they said in the ICU, actually, we need to pull people up in bed.”
“That’s a really difficult move on your back if someone’s like 300 or 400 pounds. You might need a lot of help. But if you can just press a button, it’s useful, so I’m very hopeful that this will take off.”
Perfecting the Future
Fox admits his company went to great lengths to make sure their signature product would ultimately benefit nurses. They worked with several providers at Duke’s Health Innovation Lab to perfect the patient repositioning process.
It’s been a four-year-long journey that’s hopefully about to pay off.
“We made a lot of mistakes and design changes,” Fox adds. He says the EasyShift started out as a large device about the size of a chest of drawers, but “Hospital rooms are very small,” Fox noted. They eventually found a way to shrink the dimensions so it would fit on the end of the bed.
The company has been collecting safety data on the device and has shared it with the FDA, but there’s still more work to do. Seneca has already raised $1 million from investors, but it needs more if it hopes to conduct a trial at Duke University to test the product’s viability.
Shaw believes the product could become a great success once it finds its way into hospitals, assuming it gets regulatory approval. “I don’t know of anything on the market, like this, that combines both the turning and the boosting,” he said.
But he knows it needs the support of both patients and providers. “You can imagine, to get to that point to use it on a sick patient in the ICU, we need some level of trust in a device,” he said.
If the EasyShift is all it’s cracked up to be, it could make every nurse’s life a little bit easier.