The Case for Adopting A Healthcare Injury Prevention Icon
by James A. Murphy, RN, BSN, COHN-S
Over the past several years, literally thousands of pages have been published on the subject of safe patient handling and caregiver injury prevention. Major organizations such as the ANA have instituted proactive, multi-faceted initiatives, including the highly acclaimed “Handle with Care” campaign, to educate the healthcare industry and advocate improvements in safe patient handing policies. Others have conducted evidence-based research studies documenting the relationship between safe lifting initiatives and the reduction of both the rate and severity of injuries. In addition, OSHA has released guidelines for safe patient handling in nursing homes, and the most recent Safe Patient Handling and Movement Conference in St. Petersburg, FL, provided further endorsements.
The objective of these initiatives, almost without exception, has been to accomplish a safer patient handling environment that will result in significant reductions in caregiver injuries, improved patient outcomes, and reduced workers’ compensation and related costs. Yet, injuries continue to happen and caregivers continue to be forced out of their chosen profession. In fact, even in hospitals and nursing homes where injury prevention programs have been put into place, and where contemporary lifting equipment has been made readily available, staff members frequently revert back to manual lifting techniques, eventually to become injury statistics themselves. Why do intelligent, highly trained nurses and CNAs daily fall victim to the epidemic of injuries caused by lifting or transferring patients? There is no simple answer, of course, but perhaps we can learn a lesson from an analogous situation, one that each of us encounters daily, the ubiquitous “Anti Smoking” movement.
The Anti Smoking movement has been in existence for several decades, has become a global phenomenon, and has sensitized the general public to the concept of rallying around simple visual symbols, or icons, designed to ensure instant recognition while encouraging wide-spread acceptance. Gradually, over decades, entire populations have become conditioned to abide by the prohibitions engendered by these icons. Basically the icons take the form of simple visual cues that represent a vast body of evidence-based knowledge documenting the negative effects of smoking. While it may not be feasible to prohibit smoking altogether, we now understand it is possible to completely ban smoking within certain “environments.” Today it is not uncommon to drive by a workplace and see small groups of employees standing in a parking lot or on a sidewalk, “on smoke break.” (In other words, they don’t even THINK of smoking in a facility where one of those universally accepted visual cues is posted on the door! )
Can the medical industry learn from, and more importantly, can we benefit from, the Anti Smoking campaign’s successful use of universal visual cues to represent an entire body of knowledge? Can something as simple as an icon be used to represent the body of evidence-based research documenting the positive accomplishments of safe patient handling policies? Can these visual cues be used to signify that an entire facility, or even a unit within a facility, should be considered a safe lifting environment? Can caregivers, patients, and even the general public be conditioned to abide by the prohibitions implied by that icon? Is it possible that a simple visual cue, posted on the facility web site or on entrance doors, can signify that injury prevention is a top priority within the entire “environment” one is about to enter? (In other words, once you enter this building, don’t even THINK of lifting a patient in an unsafe manner!)
Numerous individual healthcare facilities have adopted safe lifting policies in an effort to protect their staff members against musculoskeletal injuries. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those efforts have been stand-alone. They lack the widespread recognition and identity that’s necessary to signify they are part of a larger industry movement, or even a de facto industry standard. Without that recognition, safe lifting policies are often viewed by individual caregivers as temporary in nature, or “just another program.”
Again, if we can learn from the success of the Anti Smoking movement, group acceptance and buy-in will only take place when the programs at individual facilities become part of a larger, industry-wide movement, i.e. when they transcend individual facilities and take the form of a de facto industry standard. The evidence-based research on caregiver lifting injuries is compelling, and now the time has come for individual healthcare facilities to unify their efforts and convey a much-needed message of universal industry buy-in. It’s the next logical step toward accomplishing what we all want to accomplish…namely, caregiver injury prevention through safer patient handling.
Perhaps the lessons learned from the anti smoking movement can also help us meet the challenges of conveying our message to caregivers and the general public. Obviously it’s not enough to simply announce a policy in a newsletter or on a bulletin board. Imagine if a hospital announced a no-smoking policy but did not post the appropriate icons and signage. The results would be totally ineffective. Constant reinforcement via visual reminders is absolutely key, both for no-smoking programs and for no-injury programs.
If your facility presently mandates a safe lifting environment, or if you are contemplating such a program, it’s time to start applying the lessons we’ve learned from past experience. For more background information on caregiver injury prevention, to order a “Safe Lifting Environment Starter Kit,” or to download a Safe Lifting Environment icon, log on to www.safeliftingenvironment.com.
Author’s Profile: Jim. Murphy RN, BSN, COHN-S is responsible for nursing resources and educational development for safe patient handling at Liko, a global patient lift manufacturer with North American headquarters in Franklin, Massachusetts. He consults with and educates healthcare specialists as well as the company’s distribution channels and develops assessment and educational materials for a variety of patient handling needs.