Better ideas. Better outcomes.

Impact Statement 2018

AUTO SLIDER Lightening the Load

Every single day in any one hospital—in this case, Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital—patients are moved as many as 900 times. Over a year, that adds up to 100 million times that hospital staff lifts and moves patients from stretcher to bed, from bed to operating table, from one bed to another.

Kirk Rykse, supervisor, patient transport, Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, brought the problem to Spectrum Health Innovations (SHI), where Eric Van Middendorp, MSE, biomedical engineer, took the project on and brought it to a team of engineering students at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) as well as his colleague at SHI, Andrew Heuerman, MTE, product development specialist. Rykse saw a need for a lateral transfer device that could be operated by one person at a time.

“A lot of injuries happen during those transfers, sometimes to patients but often to hospital staff,” Van Middendorp says. “Often four or more staff are required to safely move a patient, which takes away valuable time from other patients.”

Although many hospital rooms are already equipped with ceiling lifts, the engineering student team found that many nurses and transporters are reluctant to use these lifts.

“When the students asked nurses and transporters why they don’t use the lifts, they were told the hoists just took too long,” says John Farris, professor of engineering, GVSU. “They also require more than one person to operate.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, rates of musculoskeletal injuries from overexertion in health care occupations are among the highest of all U.S. industries. The overexertion injury rate for hospital workers is twice the average rate—68 injuries per 10,000 workers—and five times the average among paramedics. The single greatest injury risk is manual lifting, moving and repositioning of patients.

“Due to the physical demands of our jobs, patient transport staff are susceptible to injuries, and every year we see many lower back–related injuries. This can lead to staff missing work time, but, most importantly, we do not want to have the staff getting injured,” says Rykse. “We discussed the need with GVSU engineering students for a device that could be safely operated by one person and is easily accessible.”

The students set to work, with four working on the initial design during the fall 2016 semester and handing off their work to six students in the winter semester. Meanwhile, Heuerman became their business lead, doing the market research and writing grants to fund the project.

“The team started off with three initial concepts, then a cardboard mock-up using a car battery, metal posts and winches,” Farris says. “Now, the auto slider is on casters, so it can easily be moved in any direction, stored in a closet for easy access, but then grips the floor when in use.”

From concept to design to prototype, the auto slider is now in the capable hands of Jim Medsker, president; Jason Barr, product development manager; and their team at Keystone Solutions Group in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. A Mi-Kickstart grant, awarded by the state, has funded the development process and partnership. When Keystone received the prototype concept from SHI, the Keystone team was challenged to refine the concept for manufacturing: improving the user interface and portability, increasing to 500-pounds-plus pull capacity and adding electrical controls. During early development work, Keystone tested the prototype on a weekly basis with SHI, using bags of rock salt to resemble the density of the human body, until all could agree on design and calculations.

“We are preparing to do some product testing—consumer feedback will be a part of that,” Barr says. “We want to make sure all components are reliable, safe and comfortable for any height or weight.”

“Testing is very rigorous,” Medsker says. “We make sure everything about a product is FDA-compliant before we take it to the market. We plan to reach that point within a year.”

Eric Van Middendorp adds: “This device is a simple and effective solution to a complex problem that affects many of the employees and patients at Spectrum Health. At this point, we’ve filed for a provisional utility patent. We are looking forward to continuing the partnership with GVSU and Keystone to bring this device to market and make a positive impact in hospitals.”

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fast facts
  • The single greatest injury risk for nurses, technicians and transport workers in hospitals happens during the manual lifting, moving and repositioning of patients.
  • Although many hospital rooms are equipped with power lifts to move patients, almost no one uses them. The lifts require more than one person and too much time to operate.
  • The auto slider is a device that uses two straps and a pulley/winch system to make patient transfer safe, quick and easy.

  • “It was a great experience watching the project progress and transform through numerous semesters of engineering students from GVSU. Spectrum Health Innovations has an amazing team, and everyone is very engaged and committed to improving health care.”

    Kirk Rykse supervisor, patient transport, Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital
  • “It has been great working with the staff and students on this project. The students did a great job of identifying a novel and effective design in a very crowded space. The staff at Spectrum Health has been very engaged, and we have been able to talk with all of the key stakeholders and people who would interact with this new product.”

    Eric Van Middendorp, MSE, biomedical engineer, Spectrum Health Innovations
  • “It’s been great to work with SHI again. Keystone always has great communication with the SHI team—they always have the end user in mind.”

    Jason Barr, product development manager, Keystone Solutions Group
  • “We are working diligently to create a final product that helps staff members stay safe and supports the needs of our patients. Collaborating with GVSU and Keystone Solutions Group while leveraging the expertise of our staff members at Spectrum Health has been an excellent and effective method for developing this device, and we’re hopeful it will result in a positive impact on lateral transfers everywhere.”

    Andrew Heuerman, MET, product development specialist, Spectrum Health Innovations