Our hospital is thinking of buying equipment to help nurses lift and move patients, but it's a big investment. Does this equipment really help nurses' backs?

A recent study asked this very question. Nearly 350 nurses and nurses' aides were put in three different groups, with either low, medium, or high access to patient handling equipment. The group with the most access to this equipment (mechanical lifts, sliding devices) did indeed use it. And they were better off for it.

After a year, nurses and aides who used patient handling equipment weren't as tired after their shifts. They had less back and shoulder pain. They also had less physical discomfort and fatigue. Though both groups who used this equipment saw improvements in these areas, nurses who had the most access to the equipment saw the biggest improvements. They were also more comfortable with patient handling tasks.

Using special equipment didn't reduce the number of injuries health care workers had from moving patients. However, nurses and aides who used mechanical lifting equipment didn't hurt their backs as often. They were more likely to injure their arms or necks instead. When workers who didn't use the equipment were injured, they hurt their backs 75 percent of the time.
The authors think that the benefits of this kind of equipment outweigh the costs. With faster patient turnover, nurses are required to move patients more frequently. Patient handling equipment may protect health care workers from the heavier workloads of hospitals today.