Technological Solutions for Patient Lifting

One of the greatest dangers for both professional and non-professional caregivers is lifting patients, so much so that a bill was introduced in Congress last year to eliminate manual patient handling. While the bill still awaits passage, there are some interesting alternatives on the technology front.

For the last several years, Japan’s RIKEN Institute, in collaboration with Tokai Rubber Industries, Ltd., has been testing RIBA (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance), a carebot that can lift patients. Its latest iteration, RIBA-II, announced in 2011, can lift a person weighing up to 176 pounds straight from the floor. Unfortunately, it still looks like one of Darth Vader’s stormtroopers crossed with a toy bear.

Another approach is to eliminate the need for lifting entirely. Panasonic is marketing Resyone, a wheelchair that transforms into a flat-bed (not unlike a first class airline seat). It recently earned global safety standard ISO13482 approval, a first for a service robot.

This might work. Image courtesy of Daewoo.

This might work. Image courtesy of Daewoo.

In a robotics advance on the load-bearing belt, South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering has created an exoskeleton for their shipyard workers. Already in use, it allows workers to lift materials weighing up to 70 pounds, with plans to increase the load capacity to 200 pounds. It’s not hard to imagine a version that could be employed in hospitals and other medical settings.

Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, most of these solutions will likely be available at price points that only make them practical for institutions. In the meantime, please remember that the medical literature is filled with grim studies of injuries sustained by caregivers who tried to move bedridden or seated patients. One of those studies offers this cautionary description: “In a perfect world, a ‘safe’ lift would be 51 pounds if the object is within 7 inches from the front of the body, if it is at waist height, if it is directly in front of the person, if there is a handle on the object, and if the load inside the box/bucket doesn’t shift once lifted.” In other words, don’t be afraid to ask for help.