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What Is an Adjustable Hospital Bed?

By Kenneth W. Michael Wills
Updated May 17, 2024
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An adjustable hospital bed is a bedding system used by most hospitals that can be manipulated in a variety of different ways to help patients feel comfortable or assist medical personnel in maneuvering the bed. Also sometimes referred to as a Gatch bed, the adjustable hospital bed can be adjusted up and down at both the head and the feet, or the entire body. This allows elevation of the body as required for aiding the care, treatment and healing of the patient. Attribution for the invention is usually given to Dr. Willis Gatch, most recognized for his position as Head of Surgery with the Indiana University School of Medicine. Additionally, the bed is usually on wheels with drop-down bedrails, making it easier to move the bed with the patient in it, or to gain access to the patient to administer treatment or to move the patient from the bed.

While comfort seems to be the main thrust for the invention of the adjustable hospital bed, safety is another result of the invention, even if unintentional. Medical personnel are able to perform their jobs more efficiently with the modern adjustable hospital bed, thus making treatment safer for the patient. Adjusting the bed through elevation allows for easier access to the patient, keeping medical staff from having to bend over the patient. As well, dropping the bedrails makes moving a patient safer, mitigating the dangers of having to lift a patient to move him or her from one bed to another. Aside from being found in hospitals, due to such features the adjustable hospital bed is also found in a number of nursing care settings and even outpatient clinics.

In addition to adjusting elevation at the head and feet, elevation can also be adjusted for the entire body. This was usually accomplished with cranks on older versions of the adjustable hospital bed, but on modern beds this is done through electronic push buttons. Raising the head can allow for a variety of activities to include feeding the patient, administering oral medications, and helping the patient breath. At the other end, raising the feet can help move the patient closer to the headboard. Furthermore, being able to raise or lower the entire bed can help patients getting in and out of bed, in addition to providing convenience for medical staff.

Continued improvement to the adjustable hospital bed is a priority with many manufacturers. One such area of concern is cost as even a single bed can be extremely costly for a healthcare facility — large or small. Another area of concern is further refinement of safety, as there are reported incidents of patients dying due to being crushed or strangled from such beds.

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