Walking into any healthcare facility, the ways in which its layout, furnishings, or processes and procedures have been adapted to meet the needs of a growing bariatric population may not be immediately obvious, and that’s the point.

From larger weight-bearing chairs to wider door openings to high-tech patient lifts, measures continue to be implemented across the board to care for heavier patients but to do so in a way that maintains patients’ dignity as well as the safety of staff.

And as the percentage of the nation’s population defined as obese continues to grow, healthcare administrators are finding that meeting these needs must be intrinsic to planning for future care delivery.

Some of you may recall a blog I wrote during the HEALTHCARE DESIGN Conference in Nashville this past November, recounting a session on some of the design methods being used in healthcare facilities today and resources available in the Facility Guidelines Institute’s 2010 edition of the Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities.

A recent report from Lockton, an insurance broker and safety and risk management advisor for healthcare providers, recommends facilities incorporate the FGI guidelines and suggests ways for organizations to begin the process of preparing for these needs, from ensuring bariatric patients be considered when preparing for new construction/renovations to managing the staff and equipment required for their care.

Here is a quick breakdown of the tips offered in “Ten Safety Steps to Enhance Bariatric Patient Care":

  1. Policy and procedures—Develop bariatric care policies that define the scope of your organization’s bariatric care, beginning with the patient admission process.
  2. New construction and retrofits—To ensure that new healthcare facilities or retrofitted facilities can accommodate an obese population, incorporate bariatric design needs into the request for proposals and design processes.
  3. Training and education—Require training of proper bariatric care handling for all staff.
  4. Admission assessments—Create a bariatric mobility admission assessment for your organization so that, upon admission, the level of the disability of the patient can be determined and an appropriately skilled team can be deployed.
  5. Equipment availability—Ensure that proper equipment is available, and do not allow admissions of bariatric patients if there are known gaps in equipment availability or appropriate staffing levels and skills.
  6. Bariatric communication systems—To provide dignified and high-quality care, ensure that all staff members are trained on how to identify and eliminate prejudicial or negative language or body language during the patient’s stay.
  7. Red flag discussions—Develop a system or code so staff can safely elevate concerns for their safety or the safety of the patients.
  8. Lift teams for bariatric patients—If appropriate and financially feasible, develop lift teams for bariatric patient lifting needs.
  9. Mentor and share lessons learned—Implement a peer mentoring and lessons learned debriefing process.
  10. Resources—Plan for the psychiatric needs of bariatric patients.

The full report from Lockton can be found here here.

Please share your own experiences with adapting facilities for the bariatric patient population. What were some of your successes or challenges that have been overcome?