Hospitals invest in costly equipment for obese patients

Beds for heavy patients can cost up to $20,000 more than standard beds

An increasing number of hospitals are investing in equipment and spaces that better serve patients who are severely obese and protect health care workers from injuries that can come from caring for such patients, the Tampa Bay Times' Jodie Tillman writes.

According to data from the CDC, one-third of U.S. adults are obese and about 15% of Americans are classified as severely or morbidly obese, meaning their body mass index exceeds 40. In 2010, an industry group released the first set of architectural standards to include bariatric design protocols as a way to offer better care to obese patients and protect clinicians from injuries—like back problems—that might develop from moving heavy patients.

Since then, many hospitals have taken steps to equip facilities for obese patients. A nationwide survey of hospitals released in February by health care supplier Novation found that 25% of hospitals over the past year have invested in building retrofits and additional equipment that cater to their heaviest patients.

Cathy Denning, senior VP of Novation's sourcing operations, notes that nearly every hospital has made at least some sort of adaptation to accommodate obese patients.  For instance, more health care organizations are purchasing larger operating tables, recliners, CT scans, and other technology that makes caring for severely obese patients easier, such as sonogram machines that locate veins in patients with excessive body fat.

 Some hospitals have completely redesigned physical spaces to better suit the needs of obese patients.

For example, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Florida, created a new ED treatment room that includes a wider entryway, floor-mounted commodes, a larger bed, and a ceiling lift that can hoist a person weighing up to 1,000 lbs. Patricia Donnelley, St. Joseph's VP of patient care services, says that the transformed ED leaves workers prepared to treat obese emergency patients without having to scramble to locate appropriate equipment during a time-sensitive situation.

The specialized equipment comes at a high price, however. St. Joseph's estimates that furnishing and equipping a standard patient room costs about $24,000. A specialized bariatric room costs more than double that—about $55,000—in large part due to the higher cost of bariatric beds, which are roughly $20,000 more expensive than standard beds.

Hospitals spend up to $5M on equipment for heavy patients

However, Joe Nadglowski, CEO of advocacy group Obesity Action Coalition, says that it is important to remember to treat obese patients in a way that maintains the patient's dignity. He warns that by equipping hospitals with equipment that is made for obese patients, such individuals can be scared by potentially "psychologically demeaning" hospital experiences (Tillman, Tampa Bay Times, 8/5).

How can facility design improve the patient experience?

Russell Davis, Managing Director

With reimbursement partly determined by scores earned through the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Care Providers and Systems survey, hospital leaders are increasingly paying more attention to patient satisfaction.

To meet the demands of this pay-for-performance environment, leaders are looking to improve every aspect of the patient experience—including facility design.

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