Tokyo (SCCIJ) – Swiss researchers have developed a simple device to facilitate the treatment of Covid-19 patients put on a ventilator. Nursing staff have to rotate their bodies regularly. The new device reduces the number of staff involved in this energy- and time-consuming process. A company is starting to produce this so-called “Proning Taco”.
Relieving hospital staff
Acute respiratory distress syndrome is one of the most serious symptoms of COVID-19, and the cause of death for many patients. Ventilators help them breathe and survive until medical treatment becomes effective. But the patients have to be rotated twice a day into prone positioning because lying face down improves blood flow to the lungs. The turning of heavy bodies strains the time and energy of the nursing staff in intensive care units, though.
But during Switzerland’s first lockdown, the 31-year-old researcher Julian Ferchow discovered a simpler way of rotating the patients. “We saw the pictures coming in from Italy, with exhausted doctors and distraught nursing staff,” he said. Ferchow put his doctoral project aside for a while and assembled a 20-strong team. Within four weeks, using virtual tools, they developed what is known as the Proning Taco system. It takes the pressure off hospitals crippled by a lack of personnel during the pandemic.
Simple, but highly effective
As manual turning requires a good deal of strength, particularly in the case of overweight men, the turning process currently calls for a skilled team of five healthcare professionals. Moreover, great care must be taken when rotating a patient. The system reduces the team to just three healthcare professionals. With the patient lying on one mattress, two nursing specialists wrap a second around him like a sandwich – or a taco. They then pull the patient towards them using straps and turn him to lie face down on the other mattress. A doctor supervises the procedure.
Although the technique is simple, the system is highly effective and inexpensive. The Proning Taco stabilizes the patient and enables a rotation with only minimal resistance. The thin, viscoelastic mattress foam reduces pressure spots during the rotation process. They are also ergonomically designed and adjustable. “The mattress comes in one size and is suitable for all patients,” Ferchow says.
Available on the internet free of charge
The company OBA AG from Basel now intends to manufacture the proning system on a larger scale. To this end, the University Hospital Zurich put a prototype through its paces. The company is now making minor modifications to the product and intends to offer it to hospitals. Ferchow is delighted. “From the outset, our only goal was to make a difference and help society in the pandemic,” he says. The helpfulETH initiative launched by Professor Mirko Meboldt of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich enabled the development of the system.
After Ferchow and his team had successfully tested a functional prototype in the spring, they could have applied for a patent. Instead, they posted a product description online, making it available to everyone free of charge. “As a result, even hospitals in Asia got in touch,” Ferchow says. Therefore, intensive care COVID-19 patients in other countries will soon be rotated according to the Swiss taco principle.
Text: © ETH Zurich/Andres Eberhard