Ergotrics in ‘Artsenkrant’ (journal for doctors)

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“As a neurosurgeon, I was faced every day with the problems of lifting patients onto the operating table and positioning them properly in prone position to avoid bleeding and complications,” explains Dr Paul Depauw (50). “But the step from an idea of using compressed air to the introduction of a new ergonomic tool in healthcare is running a marathon. Fortunately, there is growing awareness among healthcare management that ergonomics should be a key focus.”

Dr Depauw recalls how he came up with the idea of working with compressed air: “There is compressed air available in an operating theatre, but people didn’t use it for lifting and tilting – unlike in construction or factories. I still have the video on my mobile phone of how an overturned lorry was put back on its wheels using compressed air cushions. Then it dawned on me: why don’t we use something like that in healthcare?”

 

Marathon
The neurosurgeon continues: “Every doctor has sometimes ideas, but not everyone has the time or interest to pursue further. As surgeons, we are craftsmen: we have delineated contacts and try to solve a patient’s problem. But between an idea and launching an innovation on the market, you have to have a certain entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to take risks. My invention may seem like a simple idea, but the step to a product – let alone a company – is a whole different ball game! I was never trained as a product developer or manager.”

“I first started thinking in 2009: how can we solve or improve this? Then, in 2014, I founded the company. But it still took quite a while before we effectively had a stable prototype. I filed patents and started doing tests. At the same time I played with ideas to make this product available to other fellow healthcare providers. “That is also when Inge Bruynooghe (ex-Philips top woman) joined the company as CEO.” Again Dr Depauw: “The timeline shows why I call this a marathon journey. A posteriori, you can say: why didn’t I come up with that idea? I may be a stubborn go-getter, but that doesn’t make me a business leader. Inge and the team are much better placed in this regard.”

 

Responsibility
Essential to the Ergotrics story is the importance of ergonomics. “It is very strange that healthcare is one of the last sectors to start paying attention to ergonomics. There is no legal obligation to provide tools at the workplace. There are international guidelines, but they are not well known. Hospital management and boards are increasingly paying attention to it, also because staff have become so precious! ”

Doctor Depauw raises two relevant issues. According to the US Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a female nurse should only lift 17 kilograms, a male colleague 22 kilograms. “I work in the Netherlands (at the Neurosurgical Science Centre in Tilburg), where a patient weighs 80 to 120 kilograms on average. The team have to lift those patients on the operating table and repeat that action several times a day. You should not be surprised that nurses have backpain or drop out after a while.” In England, they calculated that implementing an ergonomic no lifting policy would cost only 0.2 to 0.3% of a hospital’s annual budget. The Royal College of Nursing estimates that maintaining such a policy for three years would lead to a 50% reduction in staff sickleave based on musculoskeletal complaints! “Based on our conviction that our products can make a useful contribution, we want to further raise ergonomic awareness among hospital management and boards of directors. After all, it is also their responsibility as employers.”

 

Design Award
The product range of these inflatables for healthcare has since expanded quite a bit, the CEO points out. “We very quickly received demand from the healthcare sector to make additional products. For instance, we are looking at the possibility of diversifying our unisex products for female patients over time. But at the start of the covid pandemic, we started producing supports for prone ventilation of corona patients.”

Meanwhile, one of the products (the Morphemat) has also been awarded the Henry van de Velde design award and its launch on the US market is in the pipeline. “Such an award gives energy. The notification from the FDA is also an important milestone.”

An anecdote best sums up the Ergotrics story. Dr Paul: “When I told two young nurses that I was the inventor of those inflatable cushion, they very laconically said: How else would you do it? Our low-tech tool may seem very banal, but once you get used to it, you don’t want to lift without it.”

Erik Brusten

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