Medical Devices

Patient Lifts

A patient being moved from a hospital bed to a wheelchair using a patient lift operated by two other individuals. Five key parts of the patient lift are labeled and include a base, a mast (a vertical bar that fits into the base), a boom (a bar that extends over the patient), a spreader bar (which hangs from the boom), and a sling (attached to the spreader bar, designed to hold the patient).Patient lifts are designed to lift and transfer patients from one place to another (e.g., from bed to bath, chair to stretcher). These should not be confused with stairway chair lifts or elevators. Patient lifts may be operated using a power source or manually. The powered models generally require the use of a rechargeable battery and the manual models are operated using hydraulics. While the design of patient lifts will vary based on the manufacturer, basic components may include a mast (the vertical bar that fits into the base), a boom (a bar that extends over the patient), a spreader bar (which hangs from the boom), a sling (attached to the spreader bar, designed to hold the patient), and a number of clips or latches (which secure the sling).

These medical devices provide many benefits, including reduced risk of injury to patients and caregivers when properly used. However, improper use of patient lifts can pose significant public health risks. Patient falls from these devices have resulted in severe patient injuries including head traumas, fractures, and deaths.

The FDA has compiled a list a best practices that, when followed, can help mitigate the risks associated with patient lifts. Users of patient lifts should:

  • Receive training and understand how to operate the lift.
  • Match the sling to the specific lift and the weight of the patient. A sling must be approved for use by the patient lift manufacturer. No sling is suitable for use with all patient lifts.
  • Inspect the sling fabric and straps to make sure they are not frayed or stressed at the seams or otherwise damaged. If there are signs of wear, do not use it.
  • Keep all clips, latches, and hanger bars securely fastened during operation.
  • Keep the base (legs) of the patient lift in the maximum open position and situate the lift to provide stability.
  • Position the patient’s arms inside the sling straps.
  • Make sure that the patient is not restless or agitated.
  • Lock the wheels on any device that will receive the patient such as a wheelchair, stretcher, bed, or chair.
  • Make sure that the weight limitations for the lift and sling are not exceeded.
  • Follow the instructions for washing and maintaining the sling.
  • Create and follow a maintenance safety inspection checklist to detect worn or damaged parts that need immediate replacement.

In addition to following these best practices, users of patient lifts must read all instructions provided by the manufacturer in order to safely operate the device.

Safe patient handling laws mandating the use of patient lifts to transfer patients have been passed in several states. Due to the passage of these laws, and the clinical community’s goal of reducing patient and caregiver injury during patient transfers, it is expected that the use of patient lifts will increase. The best practices listed above are designed to help reduce the risks while enhancing the benefits of these medical devices.

Page Last Updated: 10/30/2014
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