Today's hospital beds are a product of 1800s innovation, steadily improving with each decade's advancements in health care, engineering, and technology. Patient beds today not only provide a place for rest and recuperation, they can actually improve patient outcomes and prevent medical complications. In today's post, we'll look at some of those improvements and suggest directions for the future.
The 1800s brought about not only the first hospital bed, but also introduced two critical components still seen today: Hinged mattresses and side rails. Side rails were a part of the very first hospital bed in 1815, providing safety for the patient and an easier way to move the bed once casters were introduced. The first hinged mattress, invented in 1874, allowed parts of the patient's body to be elevated to promote blood flow or improve respiration.
The 1900s explosion of inventions in all fields included the hospital bed. New, lighter materials were introduced such as molded plastic and aluminum. Electric buttons replaced hand-cranks for adjusting the bed, and advanced sensors began sending information directly to the nursing staff. These modern beds reflected modern inventions adapted to maximize patient comfort and safety, while also serving helping alleviate some work for the medical staff.
Hospital beds in today's hospitals continue this trend of patient safety and healthcare worker support. Beds can be adjusted to help a patient stand safely by slowly shifting in an armchair configuration, helping save the healthcare worker time and effort. To avoid bed sores, some hospital beds reposition the patient, helping them heal better while allowing healthcare workers to perform other tasks. Many beds are designed to be modular, with special attachments added for respiratory therapy, indwelling devices, or other diagnosing equipment. This modular design saves time while reducing the frequent bed changes that can put patients at risk.
One of the most important protections a bed can offer to patients is to eliminate the danger posed by contamination by disease-causing pathogens. Side rails, buttons, and footboards are frequently touched by patients, healthcare workers, and visitors, leading to significant accumulation of bacteria that reproduces and spreads between cleanings. In studies of contaminated surfaces in patient rooms, side rails repeatedly come out as one of the top two most contaminated surfaces after the patient themselves.
Having this level of bioburden so close to patient must be mitigated in order to have a truly safe patient bed, and the best way to accomplish this is by using biocidal materials (currently only copper-infused EOSCU and copper alloys). More frequent cleaning is unrealistically time-consuming and disturbs the patient, exposing them to more interruptions and the chemicals required to disinfect. A biocidal material that continuously kills bacteria is not only inobtrusive, it also does not lead to the development of resistance and keeps the surface in the benign zone, thereby almost eliminating the risk of disease transmission.
Hospital-associated infections (HAIs) are caused by dirty surfaces, with either directly transfer pathogens to the patient or indirectly via the hands of a healthcare worker or visitor. Our environment is constantly covered in bacteria, which is not only on surfaces but also floating in the air and living on our hands. This level of contamination, combined with the vulnerability of the typical hospital patient, makes even the most advanced hospital bed a reservoir for disease-causing pathogens. It would be a terrible shame to take such a transformative piece of equipment as the patient bed and continue to allow it to pose an infection risk to patients.