Poor transfer technique doesn’t only risk injury to your patient – it’s also one of the leading causes of workplace injuries for nurses.

Healthcare workers, and nurses, in particular, are five times more likely to be injured on the job than workers in other industries. That’s a rate of about 166 injuries per 10,000 workers.

Most of these injuries were musculoskeletal disorders involving back injuries related to overexertion and bodily reaction. The culprit for the majority of these injuries: repositioning patients and transfers.

There are lots of situations that nurses run into multiple times daily that involve the lifting of a patient.

Whether it’s helping a patient stand to walk, helping them to the bathroom, or transferring them to a wheelchair, there are ample opportunities for a nurse to injure themselves anytime they lift, move or reposition a patient.

And nobody wants a back injury. Not only will you likely need some time off – back injuries tend to be nagging, and semi-permanent.

So let’s take an extra minute to help save our nurses’ backs while keeping patients safe by reviewing the proper patient transfer techniques.


A Quick Guide To Proper Patient Transfer Techniques


It’s easy to disregard proper patient lifting and transfer techniques – especially if it’s a busy hectic shift.

Maybe you forget to lift with your legs while you’re bending over a patient’s bed while helping them into a wheelchair. There’s a little twinge in your lower back and you think “Ooh, that felt a little weird”.

Often you’ll be moving a patient in the dorsal position – to learn what is dorsal position, look here. If they’re having a respiratory problem you may move them into the best patient position to promote oxygenation.

If you’re lucky, you may have a stiff back at the end of the day. But sometimes, you’re not so lucky. That’s why it’s so important to use proper lifting and transfer techniques.

Even more so is the fact that your patient may be weak, get dizzy, or could lose consciousness during the move. So you need to make sure that even before you begin – you need a plan.


Before You Begin


Even before you begin to lift or transfer any patient, you need to first take these things into consideration:

  • Know the weight of your patient
  • Know the mode of transport (wheelchair, stretcher, gurney)
  • Know your limitations (be honest)
  • Know your plan + have a backup plan
  • Communicate (to your patient and anyone helping you)

With a little preparation, you can reduce surprises and accidents. So run through what you’re going to do with your patient and anyone assisting. When you’ve made your preparations, now it’s time to get ready to transfer your patient:


Proper Lifting Technique:

These lifting techniques are the same anytime you are lifting a heavy object – you know, like a patient.

  • Have your head, neck, and spine all in alignment
  • Don’t bend from the waist, bend from the hips and knees
  • Keep the patient close to you as you lift
  • Don’t twist your body or jerking motions
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Shuffle your feet and pivot to turn – never twist

Transferring a patient to a seated position (includes bed to a wheelchair, wheelchair to toilet, etc:

(from bed to wheelchair)

  1. Position the wheelchair on the patient’s strongest side.
  2. Lock the wheels.
  3. The surface of where you’re transferring your patient to needs to be free from any obstructions or debris.
  4. Everything you need should be close at hand.
  5. Communicate to the patient what you’re going to do and encourage them to help as much as they are able. Use a count of three to coordinate timing.
  6. Communicate to anyone helping you clearly and concisely. Take control, make the decisions, and counts as necessary.
  7. If the patient is in bed, raise the bed until it’s a little higher than the wheelchair.
  8. Using the bed’s electronic controls, raise the patient into an upright position – never pull them into a seated position yourself. If necessary, support their back and help them put their legs over the side of the bed.
  9. Using the proper lifting techniques above, lifting with your legs and either with your arms under their arms and locked behind their back or holding their arms, help the patient into a standing position.
  10.  Pivot the patient until their back is facing the wheelchair. This should be a slow, fluid motion.
  11. Keeping your stance wide and back straight, slowly lower the patient into the chair.

This technique works either forward or in reverse and anytime the patient is seated or lying down.

The three most important takeaways and the three things that will be the most helpful in preventing injuries are:

  • Always use proper lifting techniques
  • Communicate to your patient
  • Take your time

Save yourself the pain and frustration of a back injury by making sure you always use proper patient transfer techniques. It only takes a minute to stop, create a plan, and enact a proper patient transfer- and it only takes a second to injure yourself.

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