To a layperson, the hospital bed may seem like the last thing that would be affected by new technology. Other than side rails and the ability to go up and down, what else might it need?

The truth, however, is that the common hospital bed has evolved from a fairly simple piece of furniture into a high-end medical device. Parallel with these advancements, healthcare technology management departments largely have taken over many of the responsibilities for maintaining these evolving pieces of equipment.

Hospital Bed Maintenance: Greetings from Bermuda

Bed management is a crucial part of any hospital's work. If beds are managed properly, they can improve patient flow and treatment, reduce errors and diagnostic mistakes, and promote faster recovery with fewer subsequent readmissions.

“The maintenance of the beds in our facility is handled in house by our biomedical department, where our biomedical technicians (BMETs) have been trained by the manufacturer,” said E. Michael Smith, a senior biomedical technologist for the Bermuda Hospitals Board in Paget Parish, Bermuda.

“During daily ward rounds, our BMETs perform a general visual inspection of medical devices, including beds, ask the ward clerks and/or department managers about any issues that have arisen, and decide on a plan of action,” said Smith. He added that the BMETs primarily use a corrective maintenance approach and that maintaining beds can be a time-consuming process, with the most significant issues being labor time, availability and accessibility of parts and tools, and knowledge of estimated time before failure.

“The major challenges we have faced related to maintaining hospital beds have been the cost of parts and hospital bed replacement,” said Smith.

Because the hospital at which Smith works is located in Bermuda, additional complications come into play. Every part must come from the mainland, meaning the turnaround time is longer than that for hospitals with greater ease of access.

“Small parts are set up before vendor parts arrive, and all inventory is maintained so that few parts remain unused,” explained Smith. “This is done so that nothing sits around for a long period of time.”

To maintain continuity of care, spare beds are kept at the ready. “In order to assist us in our repair service, we also have a small fleet of beds that we have identified as ‘biomed spares,’” said Smith. “We use these to replace a faulty bed so that we can have the bed removed from the ward, minimizing interruption to clinical service.”

According to Smith, consultation with other hospital stakeholders is vital to keeping the correct beds in place. “I believe it is very important, where possible, to standardize the type of bed to be purchased,” he said. Following the consultation, the right bed—for the right clinical use and with the correct features—can be purchased at the best price point.

“A hospital bed should be looked at as part of the patient prescription for recovery and wellness,” added Smith.

Bed Tech Innovations

Smith has borne witness to dramatic advancements in bed technology at his hospital.

“When I came to our facility some years ago, we still had some manual wind-up foot and head lift beds,” he said. “All beds were maintained by our facility management department at that time, but the introduction of more computerized beds with advanced mattress flotation technology proved to be more challenging as beds became less electro-mechanical.”

The lifting of patients is a common source of injury in healthcare facilities. Although mechanical lifting equipment has made the task easier for clinicians, beds that perform total lifting functions have eased the burden even further.

One type, the Flexbed, is brimming with tech.1 It adjusts to seven different positions and doesn't need to be pushed or pulled; instead, it uses robotics to move anywhere it's directed. The bed also is equipped with a tracking camera and laser sensors that can prevent collisions. Because the Flexbed can move itself into multiple positions, it can save nurses and physicians from moving a patient from one bed to another. Furthermore, radio-frequency identification chips can be put into beds to allow them to be tracked throughout a facility.

Another key innovation is the “smart bed,”2 which continuously monitors sleeping patients and can adjust medical devices if their welfare is affected. For example, a smart bed might adjust if a drop in blood pressure occurs and can even distinguish between “true drops” and temporary changes caused by shifts in position. These beds also may be equipped to signal patients to shift to avoid bed sores and to adjust automatically if sleep apnea symptoms are detected.

The lifting of patients is a common source of injury in healthcare facilities. Although mechanical lifting equipment has made the task easier for clinicians, beds that perform total lifting functions have eased the burden even further.

Although hospital beds may not be the most attention-grabbing devices in a patient's room, they remain vitally important to the well-being of patients and effective delivery of care. With up-and-coming bed technology making life easier for patients and clinicans alike, keeping an eye on innovations in hospital beds is well worth the effort.

Robotic hospital beds are the future of patient transportation
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‘Smart Bed’ Could Give Patients a Lift When They Need It
Available at: Accessed Oct. 4, 2018

Author notes

Annie Keller is a freelance medical writer based in the Columbus, OH, area.