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Example of a patient lift in aluminium

A patient lift (sometimes hoist) is a mechanical device that is used in health care to transfer physically disabled patients. There are three basic types of patient lifts: mobile lifts (floor lifts), overhead lifts and sit-to-stand lifts. The basic design for the floor lift (or common Hoyer lift) was patented in 1955 by R.R. Stratton and titled "Floor Crane with Adjustable Legs" (US patent 2706120). According to the patent, the patient lift's design was based on a similar device used in "automotive repair shops" which is described as a "floor crane available for lifting engines and other heavy parts;". The adjustable "wide-spread legs" of the crane were needed to make the device maneuverable when the legs are parallel to each other but stable under heavy load when they are spread out at an angle. Modern floor lifts maintain the basic elements of the original 1950s design described in the patent.

Today, overhead or ceiling lifts, are becoming more common and are often installed when new hospitals, nursing homes, etc. are built.

Together with a patient lift, some type of sling, normally made of textile fabric such as cotton or polyester, is used. Slings are available in many different models and variants for optimal function in different lifting situations e.g., lifting between the bed and the wheelchair or gurney, lifting between the wheelchair and the toilet, or for turning the patient in bed. One limitation of common slings is that they bend and compress the patient during transfer which can be difficult for patients with painful medical conditions. Most patients must also be "log rolled" onto the sling prior to being hoisted which makes the transfer process a more complex activity. Nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants often receive specialized training in order to use the patient lift safely and effectively.

In hospitals, patient lifts that are specially designed for horizontal lifting, i.e., lifting the patient in a supine position, for example, to an operating table, are common. A specialized sling called a "stretcher sling" allows the patient to remain supine (or in some cases prone) during transfer. There are a wide variety of other types of slings available. A patient assessment should be done by medical personnel to determine the proper sling for a given patient to avoid injuring the patient during transfer.

Ceiling (or overhead) lifts are desirable in medical environments where space is limited in the patient's room, or where there is limited storage space for a floor lift. Floor lifts are often bulky with wheeled bases that can be difficult to maneuver within the patient's room. Ceiling lifts require that permanent tracks be installed in the ceiling of the patient's room. These tracks sometimes also extend into an adjoining bathroom. An overhead electric motor with a hand-held controller raises and lowers the patient in a sling that is suspended from the track. The same motor often moves the patient horizontally following the track system.

Modular free-standing (or A-frame) overhead track systems are also available. These systems are less expensive than permanent ceiling track installations. The can also be quickly disassembled and moved from room to room as required.

Sit-to-stand lifts are designed to help patients who lack the strength or muscle control to rise to a standing position from a bed, wheelchair, chair, or commode. Standing is medically beneficial to reduce conditions such as osteoporosis which can occur when a disabled patient's bones weaken over time because they are no longer used support the patient's weight.

The main rationale for using patient lifts is to prevent occupational injuries that can be caused by repeated manual lifting. Nursing is among the most dangerous occupation for back injuries with nurses having a very high incidence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by lifting and moving patients. Many hosptials and nursing homes are adopting Safe Patient Handling and Movement (SPH&M) programs that require no-lift or zero-lift policies for nurses. The American Nursing Association (www.nursingworld.org) has instituted the Handle with Care program to reduce occupational injuries in nurses and related medical professionals.

Normally, much consideration is also given to the patient’s comfort and well being. For some patients, the use of a patient lift is more dignified than a manual lift and transfer while some consider being hoisted in a sling less dignified. For others, it can enable their families or caregivers to provide a safe way to mobilize a patient in the home setting rather than an institutional setting. The inability to mobilize patients at home is one of the primary reasons that patients find it necessary to leave the home environment and enter a nursing home when they become temporarily or permanently disabled.

Many leading manufacturers of patient lifts are Scandinavian; e.g., Ergolet, Liko (now owned by Hill-Rom), Scandinavian Mobility, Molift and Human Care. North American patient lift manufacturers include Convaquip, Chattanooga, and LIFTEM. UK manufacturers include Smartlift Medical.

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