Best in Category - Student Design 2022


Fergus Davidson / Maneet Singh / Maireid Carrigg / RMIT University

Airlift is a low cost, pneumatic patient transfer device which helps unaccompanied Healthcare Workers safely perform three key patient movements.

Developed in collaboration with WorkSafe, the device is an alternative to traditional slide sheets, and is intended to prevent ageing Healthcare Workers injuring themselves when working unsupported in the community

Design Brief:

A spike in demand for at-home care, alongside an under-resourced and rapidly ageing workforce is making community healthcare work increasingly dangerous. Our research found that Healthcare Workers were often left to reposition patients individually, which subjects their bodies to high levels of strain. Whilst there is a plethora of devices on the market that aid with patient repositioning, they are often expensive and bulky, or require multiple people to be used safely. We sought to address this gap by developing a low cost and scalable device which stands in for a second Healthcare worker when repositioning patients. This process was driven by the question: How can we rethink a slide sheet so that it can be used by a single Healthcare Worker of any age?

This project was developed by:

Design Process

We began by identifying our design problem. This involved a design SPRINT, surveying nurses, and a few rounds of feedback. From here we broke the device into core components and brainstormed ideas using morphological analysis. Although fun, these initial concepts, which included vacuum sealed sponges and soft robotic arms were overly complicated. The idea to use pneumatics presented itself on a camping trip, when one of the team was inflating a dry bag.

Realising the potential, we modified an inflatable lounge so that it could comfortably reposition a human, which served as our initial proof of concept. From there the design evolved into a kit consisting of a pump, an inflatable bladder, and a slide sheet. Soft body simulations were invaluable at this point, helping us to visualise how the device would work. Following interviews with experts in the field, we refined the concept further – and decided to combine the inflatable bladder and slide sheet into a single component. To assess how to safely handle patients, we modified a standard slide sheet, stitching handles around the perimeter. Finally, taking inspiration from market precedents, the pump was redesigned to better suit the needs of a mobile Healthcare Worker.

Design Excellence

Once tucked underneath the patient, the AirLift can be inflated using a remote-control pump, which fills the inner bladder with air and lifts the patient off the bed. Placing a layer of air between the patient and the bed significantly reduces the force required for repositions. This mitigates the risk of injury, as the device does the heavy lifting, whilst the Healthcare Worker steadies the patient. By folding the device prior to insertion, the Healthcare Worker can switch between three key patient movements. These movements are sit ups, rolls and repositions, which we decided to focus on through interviews with industry experts. The Airlift’s pump locks on to the valve during operation. The pump is controlled using a remote-control clip, which can be attached to the Healthcare Worker’s clothes for hands free use or stored in the top of the pump. A USB C port allows for charging in the car when driving between patients.

In healthcare hygiene is a top priority, so the outer cover of the Airlift is removable. This enables a quick switch between patient visits and means they can be easily washed and sterilised after every use. The Airlift sets the benchmark for good design by combining established techniques with contemporary technology.

We conducted multiple rounds of feedback and interviews with nurses, carers, and occupational therapists with years of experience between them. This research led us to slide sheets – both for their ubiquity and potential for improvement. From there we narrowed in on a design solution with the highest chance of adoption, by consulting the carers who would be using it.

Design Innovation

The Airlift’s pneumatic capabilities remove the need to physically lift the patient and reduce the force required to translate them around the bed. This in turn improves the experience for the patient, as they are being repositioned on a cushion of air, instead of being dragged around on a sheet.

The AirLift drew inspiration from a melting pot of devices, including dry bags, instant 4WD jacks, micro camping pumps and existing slide sheets. We have selected features from each of these products to ensure the AirLift is functional, whilst prioritising a solution which is low cost, portable and scalable. We believe pneumatics are being underutilised in the healthcare industry, especially as more powerful and compact pumps are becoming available. We hope this will change with the introduction of the Airlift, to prevent front line workers exposing themselves to unnecessary risk when repositioning patients.

The user experience was at the core of our design thinking. Design considerations for the lone Healthcare Worker included the addition of handles. The handles around the perimeter of the AirLift remove the need to grab the sheet directly, addressing dexterity issues ageing workers often face. These handles are fluorescent orange, so they are clearly visible. Handles have also been included in the middle of the Airlift for the patient to hold on to, reassuring them during the transfer, and giving them a sense of autonomy in the process.

Design Impact

The AirLift provides a safer solution than the use of slide sheets in patient transfers, benefiting all workers at risk of musculoskeletal injuries, with an emphasis on decreasing the lifting load and correcting risky behaviours for ageing workers. The product benefits healthcare providers and the broader industry by shifting to the one worker model of funding, through promotion of a safe and inexpensive method of patient transfer that can see repeated usage across a variety of clients.

The AirLift was designed as part of an RMIT Industrial Design studio, focusing on the ageing workforce. The studio was run with feedback from the WorkSafe Innovation Centre and was published in January 2022 (ISBN: 978-0-6454642-0-7). Collaboration like this between academic institutions and industry partners is an example of why Victoria is a hub for design innovation.

Designing sustainable medical devices is a complex issue, and something our team have thought a lot about. The Airlift’s outer cover is washable, avoiding a single use scenario. The pump is designed for disassembly and would ideally be manufactured using plastic reclaimed from decommissioned medical devices. Whilst it can be reused, end of life for the sheet is an issue, and speaks to the complexity of balancing sterility and recyclability – a problem complicated by the widespread use of composite materials in medical devices. It is clear to us that labelling something “medical” should not ensure it a place in landfill, and we intend the AirLift to reflect this mantra, and will be looking for ways to ensure the design is circular.

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