Bariatrics in Australia: it's Impact on the Furniture Industry

27-Apr-2018 | Knowledge-Hub

What is Bariatrics

Bariatrics is the medical sector that deals with obesity and related illnesses. This includes treatment and prevention such as surgery, behavioural therapy and exercise, pharmacotherapy and diet related therapy.

Many people in the medical field also use the term to refer to patients whose weight and size far exceed the recommended guidelines, without reference to any weight loss specific treatment. The term bariatric is used in reference to specific items and equipment used in the industry to accommodate obese patients such as larger furniture, hospital gowns and medical equipment.

History of Bariatrics in Australia

Nearly 2 thirds of Australians are overweight or obese according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Obesity prevalence has more than doubled in the last 30 years while hospital admissions for weight loss surgery has more than doubled in the last 10. It is estimated that by 2025, 70 percent of Australians will be overweight or obese.
In 2014–15, there were about 22,700 hospitalisations that included 1 or more weight loss surgery procedures. While the majority of these procedures were performed in private hospitals, the cost to Medicare was around $62.8 million.


What does it mean for the healthcare industry

Aside from weight loss surgeries, the higher percentage of overweight and obese Australians means patients in many hospitals and other healthcare facilities that are obese outnumber those of a more “normal” weight. While there may be a high number of obese patients, the number of patients classified as Bariatric are still the minority for now.
Despite the large number of obese patients, they are more likely to receive substandard care just due to the lack of equipment available such as MRI scanners that support their size.
This means medical facilities are increasingly having to cater for larger patients and invest in equipment and furniture that accommodates them.
This includes everything from specialised ambulance, theatre and surgical equipment to reinforced beds, pressure mattresses, stronger and wider chairs, wheelchairs and even hospital gowns. Also, lifters and specialised handling equipment that allows nursing staff to safely manoeuvre bariatric patients.
OH&S regulations need to be taken into considerations in all workplaces and this includes places where care staff look after bariatric patients. Points to be considered from an OH&S perspective could include making sure the patient is safe from falling or being injured by inappropriate or unsuitable furniture or equipment as well as making sure the care staff are free from risk of injury while carrying out their duties. Making sure you provide quality, appropriate and suitable bariatric furniture in these situations is highly important.
Due to the size and weight of bariatric furniture and equipment items, other considerations need to be made in terms of space required for not only the furniture to fit but allowance for extra care staff that may be required to assist the patient. Also, floors may need to be reinforced to bear the weight of the heavy furniture combined with the patient. As the furniture is generally wider and bigger than regular furniture, additional space may be required to allow care staff to easily and safely access and operate the equipment.
The greater need for this equipment and furniture means that there is a growing range of it available, with many manufacturers taking into account the changing size and weight of the average Australian. Bariatric specific furniture and equipment is becoming more and more common as well as regular furniture becoming more accommodating to larger sizes.


Bariatric furniture

While there are many design guidelines available when designing healthcare spaces that deal with Bariatrics, there does not seem to be a specific standard governing bariatric furniture. The guidelines mainly relate to size and load rating and focus on making furniture that is suitable for larger individuals while fitting into an environment with standard equipment and not looking too out of place. When choosing Bariatric furniture, it is important to also meet the emotional needs of the people to be using the furniture. For example, a chair that looks obviously bariatric in a waiting room might discourage not only the people who need to use it but other people may avoid using it also which will mean it goes unused.
Bariatric equipment needs to be able to support the weight of bariatric patients and also allow for wide ranges and increases in weight. Bariatric patients vary in height, size and body shape in addition to weight and it is important to keep this in mind with furniture and equipment design.
To be considered as appropriate for bariatric use, equipment must have a SWL (safe working load) of 200kg or more. This is the load that the piece of furniture can support while in use i.e. under movement or stress not just static weight. An AFRDI (Australian Furniture Research & Development Institute) 151 rating of 300 guarantees suitability for Bariatric users up to 300kg. This is a rigorous load testing and is used by furniture manufacturers as an endorsement on their work. AFRDI rated items are tested on weights and loads far exceeding the rated load.
Frames of chairs, walkers and wheelchairs etc. should be strengthened at the joints and major stress points. Rigid frames are usually stronger than frames that have moving parts such as height adjustable or folding frames. Consideration should also be taken in the materials and fixtures. Thicker steel tubing, rather than aluminium, with minimal welds, solid timber with strength joints such as mortice and tenon, higher density foam, stronger fabrics and threads in upholstery that will be under stress as well as fastenings such as screws need to be taken into account.
Even though there is more demand for Bariatric furniture and equipment and therefore higher supply, it is still a very specialised area and pieces may need to be custom made. This furniture seems a lot more expensive than similar equipment with lower weight capacity, but it is important to remember that the extra care taken to make sure this is safe, the extra materials needed to increase the size and the higher quality materials and construction techniques required for safe strength and durability under increased loads means there is no real way to produce bariatric furniture at anywhere near the cost of a regular piece of furniture even if it looks similar.

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