Many in EMS have friends and colleagues who have suffered back injuries resulting from lifting and moving patients, particularly patients who are overweight or located in awkward places. In fact, more than half (62%) of all prehospital provider back injuries happen when lifting patients.1 The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) reports that back injuries account for approximately 50% of all line of duty injury retirements each year.2
The National Safety Council reports that falls are up 63% over the last decade. Experts suggest this is a function of an aging society.3 Patients presented to emergency responders in many countries continue to become larger and heavier, presenting increasing challenges to first responders, crews treating, moving and transporting patients and hospital staff.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that medical aid calls now constitute the majority of firefighter dispatches nationwide.4 Many of these calls are for lift assists, when a person dials 9-1-1 because of their inability to get back on their feet after a non-injury fall. Often, responders not only need to help the patient up from the floor, they also need to move heavy patients from the location of their fall to a gurney.
Lifting and transporting patients manually often results in injuries to the patients and the EMS personnel. The combined costs of workers’ comp claims, downtime, overtime and early retirement are staggering. The National Institute of Standards and Technology estimated the cost of firefighter injuries to be between $2.8 billion and $7.8 billion in the year studied.5
So, when a new tool comes along that promises to improve patient care and movement while also reducing injuries to patients and providers, it’s a potential game changer. This article tells the story of recent innovations in patient lifting and transport that were designed in partnership with, and specifically for, emergency responders.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
Inventor and businessman Steve Powell created IndeeLift to help individuals, including his parents, who fall in their homes. Powell searched for a practical solution to help his parents and others who experience non-injury falls at home and are unable to get up without calling for assistance. Finding none, he invented the solution.
Powell’s invention, the IndeeLift Human Floor Lift (HFL) was developed in 2014 to help people safely get back on their feet after a non-injury fall. The HFL allows for self- or assisted-operation in the home. This not only prevents fall recovery injuries for the person who has fallen and the family members assisting them back up, it also reduces the number of calls to 9-1-1 for non-emergency lift-assists.
Aware that hospital workers experience injuries at nearly three times the rate of other professional and business services-often as a result of lifting, repositioning, and transferring patients who have limited mobility-a second line of HFLs was specifically developed for the healthcare industry.6
Although IndeeLift was producing fall recovery solutions for the home and healthcare industry, there was still a large segment of professionals that were routinely suffering from injuries incurred when lifting fallen patients: emergency responders.
An EMS Solution
In 2015, the Livermore-Pleasanton (Calif.) Fire Department (LPFD) was conducting an annual fire inspection of the IndeeLift factory and noticed the HFLs.
“When we saw the device, we asked the factory manager if it was what we thought it was,” recalled Fire Captain/Paramedic Kurtis Dickey.
The factory manager explained to Dickey and his crew that it was a new product for safely getting people back on their feet after a fall.
Dickey says, “We’d never seen anything like it, and explained to the factory manager that we needed something like that on our trucks!”
Soon after, a representative from IndeeLift contacted Dickey’s department and began working with them to develop a new HFL, one specifically designed for EMS. A prototype was presented to the department in June 2016 and Dickey’s crew began using it on lift-assists and medical-aid calls.
Dickey says, “We knew right away that this tool would not only improve patient care, but would also prevent back injuries and extend firefighters’ careers.”
As Dickey and his crew continued to use the HFL, they helped develop the EMS procedures and provided suggestions and input that IndeeLift incorporated into the final design of the HFL-550-E, which began production in December 2016.
The HFL-550-E allows responders to lift large and heavy patients-up to 700 lbs.-quickly and safely from floor level to a height of 21 inches. Patients can stand up from the seated position and walk away, or be transferred to a wheelchair or gurney without manual lifting. The unit is constructed to meet the rigors of EMS use, particularly in areas with limited space. It’s equipped with wheels to assist in moving patients, comes with a rechargeable battery pack and folds to a minimal footprint when stowed on fire apparatus, ambulances or other special response units.
Dickey and his crew have found themselves using the HFL at least 10 times a month to safely recover fallen patients. After a year of using the device, Dickey and his crew report a 100% success rate without any injuries to firefighters or patients.
In the same timeframe, four of the 100-plus person department have suffered injuries resulting from patient lifts where the responders didn’t have an HFL. This is where safety and economics merge.
The cost of a specialty lifting device is balanced against a significant reduction in workers’ compensation costs, as well as lost time and overtime costs often incurred to fill shifts of an injured provider.
Accessories & New Model
The LPFD continues to provide valuable input to IndeeLift, which has resulted in the development of accessories for the HFL.
The IndeeChuck Patient Maneuvering Tool allows two responders to retrieve very large patients from hard-to-access locations and move them to a waiting HFL. LPFD feedback also was key to the development of Stair Handle Sets and Stair Tracks.
Other early adopters of the HFL have contributed feedback resulting in the introduction of an additional HFL model.
After ambulance personnel from other departments suggested they would benefit from something more compact and lightweight, IndeeLift developed an HFL-500-E that’s lighter (50 lbs.), smaller (8″ x 20″ x 33″), and can lift and transfer patients weighing up to 500 lbs.
The HFL has also been adopted by several mobile integrated healthcare and community paramedicine (MIH-CP) programs dedicated to providing improved patient care in the home and preventing unnecessary, repetitive emergency response calls, especially from residents who are prone to falling on a regular basis.
After responding to lift-assist calls from the same paraplegic patient dozens of times in one year, the Clearwater (Fla.) Fire Department worked in partnership with IndeeLift to provide the patient with a home model at no cost that he and his caregiver could use without EMS assistance.
The Kent (Wash.) Fire Department’s innovative MIH-CP program, FD CARES, dispatches a registered nurse and an EMT to non-emergency medical calls. By equipping the FD CARES SUV with an HFL, they no longer need to dispatch a fire crew for non-emergency lift-assist calls.
The HFL offers a new, safer way for emergency responders to perform lift-assists and medical-aid calls. Its ability to reduce, and perhaps eliminate, one of the primary causes of injuries and lost time for emergency responders makes it a valuable asset.
“I’ve been a firefighter and paramedic for 20 years,” Dickey says. “In that time, I’ve seen many new tools introduced, but rarely has one come along that we use so often, and works exactly as designed. My crew and I are proud to have been involved in the development of a device that will help our patients and our fellow emergency responders.”
- Hogya PT, Ellis L. Evaluation of the injury profile of personnel in a busy urban EMS system. Am J Emerg Med. 1990;8(4):308-311.
- Back injuries and the fire fighter. (n.d.) IAFF. Retrieved Aug. 21, 2017, from www.iaff.org/hs/resi/backpain.asp.
- Associated Press. (June 9, 2016.) Why more Americans are dying accidental deaths. CBS News. Retrieved Aug. 21, 2017, from www.cbsnews.com/news/more-americans-
- Fire department calls. (June 2017.) National Fire Protection Association. Retrieved Aug. 21, 2017, from www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-reports/fire-statistics/the-fire-service/fire-department-calls/fire-department-calls.
- TriData Corporation. (March 2005.) The economic consequences of firefighter injuries and their prevention. Final report. National Institute of Standards and Technology. Retrieved Aug. 21, 2017, from www.nist.gov/publications/economic-consequences-
- Caring for our caregivers: Facts about hospital worker safety. (September 2013.) Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Retrieved Aug. 21, 2017, from www.osha.gov/dsg/hospitals/documents/1.2_Factbook_508.pdf.