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The Continuous Evolution of Exam Chairs

Doctors, or any healthcare providers, are surrounded by a vast array of choices of advanced and innovative medical technology and equipment that can help them to provide exception patient-care results. A significantly important, but often unnoticed, fundamental element that forms an integral part in any patient treatment or procedure would be the patient exam chairs.

Gone are the times when patients had almost no recourse but to step up to an inconvenient, fixed height table for a medical examination – a scenario that frequently hampered opportunities for accessibility and contributed significantly to white coat syndrome. Fast forward to today, innovations in the healthcare system (e.g., evolving demographics, advancements in technology, value-based reimbursement) are continuing to develop and reinvent the exam table as a clinical platform where diagnosis, patient interaction, and treatment coalesce to maximize the quality of care.

Nowadays, an exam table is no longer even seen in most ambulatory settings, but instead, a convenient exam chair is being utilized. It already combines the specifications of a clinical device and the architectural features of a piece of furniture. An exam chair is designed to be patient-centered, facilitating patient comfort while also allowing caregivers to maintain a proper working position during medical exams and procedures.

An exam chair is used to provide support for patients during a medical examination. During the said exams, doctors or healthcare providers utilize an adjusting mechanism to control and position the exam chair to facilitate patient support, allow a closer examination of the patient, and the ability to transfer the patient on and off the exam chair safely. Exam chairs mostly have a disposable paper sheet layered onto it to protect the chair. The paper will then be discarded after a patient uses the chair.

Exam Chairs’ Evolution

As the year progresses, so does the exam chairs. It continuously evolves for the better and steadfastly innovates to stay true to its main aim: to provide its users (both caregiver and patient) the maximum comfort and accessibility they need during a medical examination. The following are the three significant aspects in which an exam chair continuously evolves.

  1. Continuing to support value-based care and enhanced performance

Since value-based payment models evolve, some exam chairs could very well help healthcare professionals work towards achieving quality metrics of the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) used in quantifying provider payments.

Three MIPS metrics are focused on measuring blood pressure (BP) – Controlling BP and Hypertension, BP Improvement, and High BP Preventive Screening). A patient’s positioning plays a critical role in measuring BP. Variations in positioning and technique, for example, may result in fluctuations in systolic blood pressure of 5 to 15 mmHg. Studies indicate that even a 5 (five) mmHg difference can affect nearly 16 percent of patients, either possibly putting them on medication mistakenly or missing a hypertension diagnosis.

Adjustable exam chairs can standardize and refine the BP assessment process so healthcare providers can consistently take readings and implement the recommendations of the American Heart Association (AHA). A low seat height helps improve accessibility and facilitates the proper positioning of patients. For example, exam chairs that can be lowered to a height of 15.5 inches actually enable the majority of patients to put their feet flat on the floor (this includes females with heights that are within the third percentile). Adjustable support rails for patients also make it possible for the arms to be at the same height as the heart, as well as a patient-centered design, It offers patient appropriate back support for positioning and comfort.

  • Enhancements in ergonomics and functionality

With the average age of patients continuing to increase, a rapidly increasing percentage of patients need support accessing an exam chair. The U.S. Access Board (the federal agency who provides leadership and guidance for an accessible design) strongly recommends an exam chair with a low and uncompressed seat height of at least 17 to 19 inches. A low seat height, adjustable support rails, as well as flat, wide transfer area allow patients with differing ability levels to move with minimal assistance on and off the exam chair.

Most exam chairs are often designed with health care providers in mind in an aim to optimize their experience and enhance productivity and, at the same time, safety. Fully adjustable chairs allow shorter and taller providers to perform at the most suitable height and limit the likelihood of overreaching, bending, or twisting during the examination.

  • Optimizing Connectivity

While the Internet of Things (IoT) progresses to revolutionize the way we connect with facilities, information, and each other, it brings a new degree of ease of access to ambulatory care, and this includes the exam chair. The result is a better primary data collection method and smarter workflows.

Many exam chairs feature an integrated scale that can capture weight data while the patient is sitting comfortably, eradicating weighing equipment that is often out there in the open. The data would then be directly transferred to an Electronic Health Records (EHR) application. This reduces the probability of inaccuracies in both having to read the scale and transcribing it into a file of the patient.

As the extent of connectivity grows exponentially, the exam chair will be able to gather and convey even more data about diagnostic and vital signs. For example, vital sign monitors are being attached to the exam chair to help minimize errors in the acquiring of vital signs. These diagnostic devices provide a direct wireless connection between the vital signs’ device, the exam chair, and the caregiver’s tablet or laptop, significantly changing the traditional workflow in vital signs acquisition. Healthcare professionals can take vital signs, evaluate results, and transfer the information effortlessly to EHR systems.

The exam chair that almost all patients use nowadays is much more advanced, more comfortable, and far more versatile than the fixed-height table that was used many years ago. It is dramatically becoming such a critical foundation of the connected point ecosystem of care, promoting the attainment of value-based reimbursement initiatives, and improving clinical results.

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