Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Frustrations of a Physician Innovator
If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)
This is an interview with Willis Martin, MD, a 67 year old dermatologist turned medical innovator from Rocky Mount, North Carolina. As will become clear in the interview, the motto is his company, Martin Manufacturing, whose website is Martin innovations, might be “ Leave the heavy lifting to us.” His innovation lifts immobile, obese, and wheelchair-bound patients onto beds, examining tables, or other raised level surfaces, required for MRI, CT, other radiological imaging.
Q: Tell us about your company, your innovations, and your frustrations in bringing your product to the attention of a wider world.
A: The official name of my company is Martin Manufacturing Company. We use the name Martin Innovations, so we can have the website.
Q: When and why did you found this company?
A: I  founded the company in 2004. At that point, I had spent 25 years practicing dermatology. In my practice, I was having difficulty lifting immobile or large patients onto an examination table. The nurses and I worried about hurting our backs lifting these patients, and the patient might fall or be injured during the lifting. So we often examined or treated the patient in a wheelchair under suboptimal circumstances with poor lighting or insufficient exposure of their skin. That wasn’t in the best interest of the staff, the physician, or the patient. I knew there had to be a better way.
Q: So what did you do?
A: I tried to figure out a way to lift a patient out of a wheelchair onto the exam table. It dawned on me that somehow we had to put the wheelchair on top of the table. But there were problems. The wheelchair design had an X-brace. That was a clever design because it allowed you to fold the chair. Bu  it prevented you from backing the chair over anything. So I designed a chair that eliminated the X-brace. The second problem was getting an exam chair low enough so the chair could back over it. Then there was a problem with attachments to the table. We came up with the idea of using automobile door locks. The locks could hold 2500 pounds apiece to secure the chair to the table. I wanted to develop a product that would lift a thousand pounds. We put all those ingredients into the final design.
Q:What has been  your principle frustration?
A: Designing the chair was not the greatest frustration. The greatest frustration was finding someone to take the chair lift to market. I went to the four major exam table manufacturers – Medmark, UMF, Brewer, and Hamilton- and none of them showed any interest. Their lack of interest surprised me. Lifting patients was a major clinical safety and quality problem. People get hurt lifting patients and you can’t do a good exam on a patient in a wheelchair. I knew this product had to go to market to benefit thousands of patients.
Q: Given your comittment to patiens  what did you decide to do?
A: I took a walk in the woods behind my house and meditated. I decided I could help more people in the world getting this product to market than by practicing dermatology and seeing 80 patients a day. Then somebody came along and wanted to buy my practice. So I sold it and pursued my dream fulltime. I sold a farm I had invested in. You might say “I bet the farm”on my idea. I invested in the firm. I cashed in my IRAs and my retirement fund.
People told me I was a fool, and I may be. But this wheelchair lift will mean so much to patients, nurses, and doctors.  It will allow a better exam and better treatment, and it will prevent injuries. The frustration is getting it out there for the world to see.
Q: What is the lifting mechanism? How does the wheelchair get lifted?
A: The table itself is the lifting device. When the patient enters the exam room, the nurse simply pushes a button on the foot control. The seat on the exam table is removed. The wheelchair backs over it. The table lifts, and when it lifts, the automobile door locks engage, latching the seat the of wheelchair with the patient in it by 5000 pounds of force. Then the sides are removed, and you have total access to the patient.
Q: As I understand it, people can visualize what you’ve just described on two videos at

A: Absolutely. One is a 32 second video, and the other lasts 5 minutes. Also on the website are testimonials from others who have used the table, including Dr. Jim Foster at the Carillion Wound Care Center. When we removed the table from Carillion for a short time, patients would call and cancel until the table was back. One patient who was paraplegic for 28 years from a gunshot wound, after being lifted, petted the table like I would pet my black lab and said, “ This thing right here is 100% better than anything I have ever experienced. It is heaven-sent.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks when I heard that. As Sir William Osler said, “The art of patient care is caring for the patient.” I knew then that I had to get this chair out there for thousands of wheel-chair users, obese and immobile patients and nurses and doctors just like him with mobility issues and obesity to aid nurses and doctors in proper examination.
Q: I understand you have sold about $1 million of these chair lifts to the VA health system.
A: Yes, we have, and we have also exported some to England for use in their dental service. Dentists have the same kind of problems with obese patients and patients with limited mobility.
Q: You told me previously that you have problems selling your chair concept to big consolidated hospital systems where MBA and MHAs make the purchasing decisions. They don’t always grasp the clinical significance of your chair lift and what it means for patients and doctors.
A: That’s exactly right, and that’s a problem with any bureaucratic system. You have to a have a champion in the system for your product. Ours is a model for safe patient handling, and it sometimes takes a nurse or doctor who understands that. As yet, our product has not been adopted throughout these large systems, but in selected areas, like wound healing centers, where visualization of the wound is essential, and in imaging centers, where frequent patient transfers occur.
Q: Resistance to your chair surprises me. Donald Berwick, former CMS administrator, has made hospital patient safety a huge issue.
A: You’re right. Look at the numbers. The average age of nurses is 50 to 54. We are looking at 18% of nursing staff leaving the profession because of back injuries. We are looking at $20 to $40 billion a year for workers compensation claims. Nurses and nurse assistants lift more than manufacturing workers. And then there’s the productivity issue. We found in Louisiana that when we put two of our chairs in a 16 bed unit care speeded up. Reports from nurses indicated they would even work for a lower wage in a unit with our chairs because they no longer feared back injuries. Non-clinicians don’t understand the dangers and the mechanics of getting a patient onto the table.
Q: Is patient-lifting is considered unsafe?
A: Yes, NIOSH, the National Institute of Safety and Health, a subdivision of CDC, has established you cannot safely lift a patient. We have 10 states now that have adopted no-lift policies. We have other  lifting products – a stretcher that eliminates transfers, a docking recliner,  and a portable lifting-device. We seek to eliminate lifts as opposed to simply assisting lifting.
Q: Isn’t there another factor as well – the saving in people  costs? Tell us how your product would save on labor.
A: Take the problem of MRI exams. As Wake Med, a local hospital system, there were 6 people on a transfer team who would lift patients and place them on a gurney. They take a  stretcher would travel through the hospital system – down the corridors, through the elevators, into the imaging suite. An MRI is a giant magnet. A non-magnetic stretcher would be brought out of the MRI suite to replace the magnetic hospital stretcher. The take the stretcher into the MRI suite where another transfer occurs onto the MRI table. You reverse the process when the MRI procedure is complete.
All in all, you have six transfers. Each transfer takes at least 5 minutes, for a total of 30 minutes. With 6 people, that comes to 180 minutes of people time. In a typical MRI unit, you may be able to process 20 patients a day. That comes to 60 hours. So in one day, you’ve wasted 60 hours transferring patients. If the pay for the transfer team is $20 an hour, the year-end transfer bill would be over $300,000, which our chair lift would save. Our device, by the way, is non-magnetic.
Q: Dr. Martin, I want to thank you for talking about this labor-saving, safety-enhancing, patient-physician-nurse friendly product.  
Tweet: Dr. Willis Martin has designed and markets a wheel-chair lift that enhances safety, saves on labor costs, and improves patient care.

No comments: