Medical equipment expands to fit obese

    The prevalence of obesity is rising each year — and in Pennsylvania it has surpassed 27 percent of the population. Hospitals are realizing that with larger and larger patients, equipment is becoming outdated and undersized. But the upgrades are going beyond bigger chairs and beds to high tech scanning equipment and elaborate transportation systems. From WHYY’s health and science desk, Kerry Grens reports.

    The prevalence of obesity is rising each year — and in Pennsylvania it has surpassed 27 percent of the population. Hospitals are realizing that with larger and larger patients, equipment is becoming outdated and undersized. But the upgrades are going beyond bigger chairs and beds to high tech scanning equipment and elaborate transportation systems. From WHYY’s health and science desk, Kerry Grens reports.

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    Transcript:

    …applause…

    Outside Temple Hospital last week, health system president Chip Marshall unveiled the latest in imaging technology.

    Marshall: The 3T MRI will allow our physicians to look at patients with new eyes, allowing them to develop more comprehensive diagnoses and innovative solutions. Plus our patients will receive the benefits of shorter waits and more comfortable all around experience.

    By comfortable, that means a 70-centimeter opening with a bed built to hold patients weighing up to 440 pounds.

    Jungreis: Most of the old equipment, this was across radiology, had a basic limit of about 300 pounds.

    Chip Jungreis is chair of the Department of Radiology at Temple University School of Medicine.

    Jungreis: That was the limit in cat scan, that was the limit in MR, the limit in angiography, fluoroscopy, just a regular GI series. So systematically we’ve been replacing this stuff with equipment that the manufacturers have started building that accomodates bigger patients.

    And there is certainly a need. Americans are taller and heavier than ever before. Most of us are overweight, and about a quarter of us are considered obese. Lois Lindeman found out first-hand that hospitals are not expanding as quickly as the population — when she developed kidney stones.

    Lindeman: You go into the hospital in extreme pain. And all of a sudden you find out you have to have a lythotripsy procedure and you can’t because you won’t fit into the water tub.

    At the time Lindeman was recovering from gastric bypass surgery and was on her way down in weight from more than 330 pounds. She says that in her case, her size affected the quality of care.

    Lindeman: Instead of going right in to have this procedure which probably could have been done within a week’s time, I had to wait for 8-10 weeks to see if it would shrink first. That’s a long time when you’re not well and feeling uncomfortable.

    Companies are responding to the rise in obesity and making new equipment and technology bigger and sturdier. David Jarman is an account executive at Siemens, which made Temple’s new MRI machine.

    Jarman: We make a new digital fluoroscopic room, which will hold up to 600 pound patients and up to 500 pounds at full tilt. They also increased the X-ray tubes so the X-ray can penetrate through the larger patient.

    Jarman says advances in technology have made the expansions possible without compromising resolution. Siemens new CT scanners can accomodate 600 pound patients and the opening has stretched to 78 centimenters. But patients this size need more than appropriately sized medical equipment — they also need safe transfer on and off these scanners. Hovertech International in Allentown makes an inflatable mattress that ejects air out the bottom — making patients seem to weigh just ten percent of their actual weight. CEO David Davis says even his company has had to adapt.

    Davis: When we first started our transfer mattress was 28 inches wide. And now we make them 34, 39, and 50 inches wide. The heaviest patient we moved was 1286 lbs. And 90% of our sales are in the 34 inch wide mattress and that will handle up to 7, 800 pound patients.

    Mechanical lifts are also starting to move into hospitals. The University of Pennsylvania Hospital has installed lifts accessible to every patient bed and in the emergency department and cat scanning rooms. Alexandra Rella is the hospital’s injury prevention specialist.

    Rella: We’ve strategically placed these lifts so that we can appropriately and safely care for all our patients, especially our patients who are obese, from they moment they arrive at the hospital and then any department that they may have to travel through at their stay here.

    Most of the lifts accomodate patients up to 550 pounds, but Rella says several can lift up to 1,000 pounds. For the most part, there are few pieces of medical equipment that have not been redesigned to accomodate obese patients, says Temple’s Jungreis.

    Jungreis: Actually not too much up to that 440, 500 pound mark. Some patients are bigger still.

    This is where the challenge remains, says Kelvin Higa at the University of California San Francisco, and a former president of the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons.

    Higa: I think we’re stil looking for equipment that can handle larger and larger patients. So now if we have a cat scanner that can go up to 6 or 700 pounds, we’d really like to see a cat scanner go up to 1000 pounds, if necessary.

    That way, Higa says, all patients can get the same level of care.

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