Hospital workers who are fans of the CBS Sherlock Holmes show Elementary may recognize a familiar sight on an upcoming episode.
A wealthy, eccentric character who has fallen ill outfitted his bedroom to fit his every need — complete with a modern, decked-out hospital bed from manufacturer Sizewise.
“High tech medical equipment is transcending Hollywood now,” says Mary Nell Westbrook, marketing manager at Sizewise. The show features a fancy version of the company’s flagship bed, the Navigator. And while the bed on the small screen may be an exaggerated version, the beds found in hospitals today are indeed fitted with helpful accessories like an iPad-like device called Tui that takes in patient data, and low air-loss mattresses that adjust pressure points based on patient preference.
Hospital beds are where most patients spend the majority of their time, after all, and new “smart beds,” help patients stay safe, while “smart” capabilities help nurses analyze information and improve patient care. The beds connect to EMR networks to send patient data and help nurses monitor patient statistics such as movement and weight changes.
Technology companies are joining in the smart bed trend, too, offering useful tools that can work in harmony with the beds to yield even more valuable data.
Innovations are giving this sometimes sleepy industry a needed nudge. Thanks to the rise of the “smart bed,” the industry is slated to grow at a rate of 4.2 percent over the next few years. The industry was worth $2.5 billion in 2012, according to an IBISWorld market research report.
Not free falling
One major focus of “smart bed” advances is improving patient safety and comfort throughout a potentially lengthy hospital stay. Though patient safety has always been a focus, the Affordable Care Act has made patient satisfaction and comfort even more important.
“With the occurrence of patient falls, skin integrity, pulmonary concerns, and organizational risk (caregiver injury) on the rise, hospitals are looking for products that help reduce these risks and improve outcomes,” says Amy Stromswold, marketing manager at Stryker Medical.
Falls in particular are a point of concern. The BAM Labs Touch-free Life Care (TLC) Platform uses a sensor to help prevent patient falls. The TLC sensor is placed under the mattress of any type of bed.
Rather than just letting nurses know when a patient is getting out of bed, the technology also creates reports of patient movement that nurses can look at for patterns.
“We provide a pattern of movement so you can start studying now, this patient may be more awake than they were before, I’m going to get them out of bed now before they get out on their own,” says Charlotte Miller, director of nursing informatics at BAM Labs. If an accident does happen, the reporting allows doctors and nurses to have what Miller calls a “fall huddle” and create a plan of action to prevent the same thing from happening again.
“They will look at the trends, and say, ‘look at this pattern, the resident’s heart rate and respirations were moving a lot more. Maybe instead of getting them up at four, maybe we should get them up at three,’” says Miller.
The same tool can be used to decide on a plan for rotating a patient to prevent bed sores. The technology records which side the patient was moved to at a certain time to help nurses keep track of changes.
Plus, having a sensor under the bed tends to be more comfortable than being attached to traditional patient fall sensors.
“Because it’s non-invasive, having a discrete solution that’s under the mattress, it helps preserve patient dignity,” says Miller. “It’s about taking care of them in a comfortable and home-like environment. That’s a requirement that we’re hearing from customers.”
Wires and other connectors also have the potential to become detached, another benefit of a hands-free solution.
“Sensors are good for burn victims, too, because nothing has to touch the skin,” says Edward Chen, president and COO of Hoana Medical, Inc., which makes the LifeBed patient vigilance system, a sensor that slips beneath a hospital bed sheet and tracks patient data.
The LifeBed system connects to a patient and delivers movement data to a bedside monitor. Chen says that a future release the company is currently working on will eliminate the bedside monitor for an even easier experience for nursing staff. “We’re building it up so it’s wireless and Bluetooth compatible, so it works better for the modern day,” says Chen. He foresees the technology being especially helpful in neonatal intensive care units, as hospital staff are always in need of more information about one of the most vulnerable patient groups in a hospital.
Don’t be alarmed
The special features of smart beds may be beneficial, but if they beep and chirp as much as all of the other alarms in a typical hospital room, they’re contributing to alarm fatigue. Alarm fatigue was once again listed as the top health care safety concern by the ECRI Institute in 2013, beating out risks like CT radiation exposure in pediatric patients. Basically, if there are too many alarms sounding at all hours, many of which only tell the nurse that everything is working fine, it’s all too easy to start tuning out certain sounds. Purveyors of smart bed technology work to ensure their offerings aren’t a part of the problem.
“Alarm fatigue is a major concern,” says Chen. “That’s why we’ve done studies to show that our system has fewer false alarms than other systems.”
Westbrook of Sizewise says her company has developed different “ring tones” for different alarms to help deal with alarm fatigue.
“One of the cool things that we did with our bed exit alarm is that we’ve made it possible to customize the ringtone,” says Westbrook. “You can pick a million different tones, we’ve done the same thing with the bed movement alarming — different sounds. That will start to eliminate alarm fatigue, which is a big problem when all of the alarms sound the same.”
This bed is just right
Like in most other health care arenas, the hospital bed industry has become more patient-specific. Sizewise recently introduced a bed made specifically for behavioral health patients. The bed includes special safety features for both the nurse and patient, such as a low height and safety fixtures that can’t be removed.
“They’re for behavioral health areas of the hospital, as well as for Alzheimer’s patients,” says Westbrook.
Another bed option, the Evolution, sits just nine inches off the ground, ideal for geriatric patients. For bariatric patients, the company offers the Bari-Rehab Platform2, which has a 1,000 pound capacity and can be expanded to 39 or 48 inches.
The bed’s surface can also be adjusted to match patient preference. Low air loss mattresses use air to create a comfortable surface for patients and prevent bed sores. Stryker’s IsoGel Air, for example, provides pressure redistribution to help prevent bed sores.
Westbrook predicts that the industry will see more progress in mattress “micro-climates,” which allow nurses to adjust the bed’s temperature based on patient preferences.
Another common patient discomfort problem comes from being lifted up by a nurse. On average, caregivers may lift patients as much as 35 times a day, causing strain on the both the patient and the caregiver. Hill-Rom’s latest VersaCare bed includes multiple technology features that assist with patient positioning, making patient movement as “easy as pressing a button,” the company says.
Westbrook of Sizewise predicts that mattresses will be the next frontier for innovations in the hospital bed industry.
“We’re not ready to reveal anything yet, but we’re starting to really look at the technology of the mattress side,” says Westbrook. “Today we have green, sustainable mattresses, and we’re exploring what a surface can do in terms of interaction with the patients, what kind of statistics it’ll be able to produce in the future. It’s going to be exciting on the surface side.”
Hospital bed innovations can be slow. Beds generally last a decade or more, so upgrades aren’t constant. And manufacturers want to ensure that the upgrade is worth something. “The medical market will follow on the heels of the consumer market,” says Westbrook. “But you can’t just stick a consumer mattress under a patient. There are so many key points, pulsation, alternation, pressure points — all of the medical therapies that come with existing mattresses, but those are the kinds of things that patients are going to increasingly need.”
The aging baby boomer population in particular will help drive hospital bed innovations, Westbrook says. So a time may come soon enough, when all patients rest their heads on Hollywood-worthy mattresses.
DOTmed Registered DMBN 2014 Hospital Beds Companies
Names in boldface are Premium Listings.
Veronica Villanueva, Comerlat Enterprises LLC
Moshe Alkalay, Hi Tech Int'l Group
Byron Wurdeman, Piedmont Medical, Inc
Eddie Bright, Fitco Medical
Rick Meerkerk, Mediproma B.V.