Redesigning the Medical Examination Table; The Disparity of Patient Care and Lack of Accessibility for Patients With Obesity

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Louw, Lauren, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Earle, Joshua, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Both my technical and STS research projects are centered around promoting accessible healthcare for all patient demographics.
The goal of my technical project is to produce a new design for the medical examination table found in most general practitioners’ offices. As is, the design is mostly only inclusive of able-bodied individuals and threatens the ideal of accessibility in healthcare. The main goal of this redesign is to promote ease of access, as a lack of accessible medical equipment can actively hinder doctor-patient interactions for disabled individuals, including, but not limited to, wheelchair-confined, obese, and elderly patients. This table strongly facilitates doctor-patient interactions, and thus must allow for ease of examination as well as address patient comfort. Most medical examination tables are quite outdated in which they are bulky, not height adjustable, and expensive to manufacture. Through this project, the team created an updated table design that addresses many of the flaws in existing designs and accommodates patients with mobility limitations, such as the elderly and those with physical disabilities, in hopes of improving the standard of care that these patients receive.
During the first semester, extensive research was conducted by reviewing literature and first hand experiences of both physicians and patients to obtain a clear set of design specifications. An iterative design process was followed in which the team was able to make continuous improvements to the table design and refine various aspects of the design. Eventually, a design sketch that was believed to optimize the primary aims set out for the project was decided on. The next step was to create a 3D model of the finalized design using Autodesk Fusion 360 to better curate the shapes and curvature of the various components in the table design. To demonstrate the adjustability of the table, the team performed a screen recording to document the mobility of the design by allowing each piece to move according to its degree of freedom.
In addition to the table design and virtual model, a materials analysis was also conducted in order to examine the materials used in existing tables and gain insight into which should be used in our model. This involved extensive research into prior art, as well as new materials that would allow for reduced costs, sanitizability, and patient comfort. Going forward, future work can be conducted to develop a working prototype of the table through the use of 3D printing and knowledge from mechanical and electrical engineering disciplines.
My STS research paper explores how obesity is a growing epidemic that plagues patient demographics around the world and threatens some of the most universal goals of healthcare. In the medical community, patients should feel confident that they can receive universal access to treatment and that physicians will maintain an equitable standard of care for all patients, regardless of their medical history or demographics. However, there is a significant disparity of patient care for patients with obesity that leads to an overall lack of accessibility for those attempting to obtain medical treatments.
There are many factors that contribute to the rise of obesity, such as the rise of TV viewing, increased consumption of takeout and prepared foods, and a trend towards sedentary computer-bound jobs. Toxic mindsets and stigmas emerge from these trends in which many people believe being overweight is something that is completely controllable, and can be attributed to the fault of the individual themselves. Because of this, there is a negative connotation surrounding those with obesity specifically in the medical commuity where many medical professionals believe that obese patients are less likely to adhere to their given treatment regimens and this place less empahses on overall patient communication. These harmful biases lead to a distrust in medical professionals and increased health problems for these patients suffering from obesity.
Patients with obesity are also heavily limited by the medical treatments in which they can actually obtain. Items such as medical gowns and blood pressure cuffs are often too small to fit these patients. Several diagnostic machines and other devices such as scales are unable to precisely measure patients of larger sizes and thus prevent them from learning more about their current health statuses. Additionally, medications such as antibiotics, fertility drugs, birth control pills, and the morning-after pill do not work as well in obese individuals.
Overall, there are many flaws in the healthcare system that lead to inaccessibility of medical treatment for patients with obesity. By making medical equipment more accomodating to obese patients, taking preventative measure to reduce the rise of obesity, as well as eliminating harmful stigmas, the healthcare community can beome more accesible to all patient demographics.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Obesity, Healthcare , Accessibility, Exam Table
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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