The Chair of Innovation


Written by Brett Levine    

Photography by Mac Logue

 

Dr. Will Ferniany, CEO of the UAB Health System, had an idea. “Well, actually I didn’t have an idea,” he pauses, “but I saw a need.” That need revolved around transporting patients within a hospital system with a tool that was not really meant for the job. “Think about the traditional wheelchair,” he continues. “It has a design that can make it dangerous for people to be lifted out. It has removable components that are easy to misplace. And, unfortunately for an organization like UAB, they fold up and are easy to remove.”

So Dr. Ferniany approached Lloyd Cooper and PUSH Product Design to conceive of a new patient transport chair that could mitigate these and other problems. “I do want to be clear that there is a difference between a traditional wheelchair and the patient transport chair,” Dr. Ferniany remarks. “The transport chair really was conceived with the understanding that it would not be self-propelled and it would not fully replace what we normally think of as a wheelchair.”

PUSH produced a number of designs, beginning with a wooden prototype. “We worked closely with a range of hospital staff,” explains Lloyd Cooper, founder of PUSH Product Design and now lead designer and partner in Movi Medical, LLC. “We literally walked the floors with transport staff, learning about the challenges they faced when using a traditional chair. How did they approach moving patients in and out of the seats? Did the chairs meet the specific needs of the patients? How could we possibly make the entire process easier, safer, and more comfortable?”

The emphasis on patient safety and comfort is a key element of the UAB Health System approach. Anthony Patterson, Senior Vice President of Inpatient Services, explains that the chair that was finally put into production, after many iterations, is a “key differentiator in the patient experience.” Anecdotal evidence and informal surveys of both patients and staff indicate that the Movi chair is far better for patient transport than the traditional wheelchair, but Patterson and his team are not satisfied with this level of information. “We are in fact working with the School of Public Health to design a survey that will examine the chair’s efficacy in reducing falls and other injuries among patients as well as exploring if and how the chair contributes to our employees’ safety.”

Now, the company marketing the chair represents a partnership between the UAB Research Foundation and PUSH Product Designs under the rubric of Movi Medical. As Lloyd Cooper explains, “after working with UAB to develop the intellectual property around the Movi chair, we felt like we had the access to partners and investors that could help us bring the chair to the market. Of course a research hospital like UAB has any number of opportunities to design, develop, and patent a range of innovations,” Cooper continues, “but there is a large gap between prototype and production. We felt that as equity partners with UAB we could leverage our experience in product design to help bring the Movi chair to the market.”

Now, Movi is available for both the healthcare and home care markets. “Movi is the chair for individuals who want a set of features that are not available with a traditional wheelchair,” Cooper explains. “We see Movi as the chair that a person can use long-term that is specifically designed to mitigate many of the challenges and difficulties encountered with a traditional chair. The chair itself is ergonomically designed,” Cooper says, “and the electric lift allows a person to be raised from a seated to standing position with mechanical assistance. This means that the risk of injury a caregiver would encounter during this potentially dangerous move can be mitigated if not eliminated.”

Movi is now being adopted throughout the UAB Health System. As both Dr. Ferniany and Mr. Patterson explain, the chair will supplement traditional wheelchairs in some instances and replace them entirely for certain applications. “It is important to remember that the Movi chair is a patient transport chair,” Dr. Ferniany says. “It is designed to help UAB Transport staff deliver their services more easily and more safely. Even this advanced a design cannot currently replace all the functions of a traditional wheelchair, although that might be possible in the future.”

One area Cooper is focusing on through the Movi partnership is a new product with the working name of Stingray. “It probably won’t have that name when it reaches production,” Cooper says, “but it works for now.” Stingray, to be unveiled at the Healthcare Design Conference in Orlando, Fla., this month, highlights the ways in which an innovative idea can be further enhanced for specific markets and applications. “Movi is the first product and the foundation upon which our innovations are built,” Cooper explains. “It is available now and it will continue to be. But what I began to consider as part of the licensing and manufacturing process was how the technology of Movi might be applied for users who had long term need for a transport chair. How could it be more comfortable, more personal and more beautiful?”

Stingray is that chair. Cooper envisions that Stingray will bring personalization and customization to a product that many people use for extended periods. “I have always designed Stingray with the intention of it having the durability and functionality of Movi combined with the comfort and customization of home furnishings. Imagine,” he pauses, “the idea of being able to choose fabrics and finishes for a chair such as this. What we are seeing with an aging market,” Cooper continues, “is that many of the decision makers for patients in need are familiar with the quality and durability of modern classic furniture and well designed cars. So, they bring these sensibilities to their decisions regarding the comfort of their family members.”

On a matrix, Stingray adds a headrest, padded armrests, seats and leg rests, and larger padded arms among other innovations. Cooper, Patterson, and Ferniany all envision the possibility of both home and acute care applications for Stingray. “Every room in a hospital has a patient bedside chair,” Dr. Ferniany explains. “If that stationary chair were to be replaced with a chair like Stingray, it could bring both safety and comfort enhancements to the in-room patient experience.” While these questions are still under investigation and evaluation, Cooper believes that Stingray will alter the landscape of home care chairs in the immediate future.

“I see Stingray as having multiple positioning,” Cooper explains. “It, like Movi, will be able to shift between use in an acute care environment and use in a home care environment. I believe that generally families make health care decisions based on equipment and products they have seen, so if Stingray has an acute care application it will also find itself validated in the home care environment.

As a Birmingham-based company, Movi has begun manufacturing its chairs within the state of Alabama. “We like the idea of our products being American-made,” Cooper says. “It is difficult to determine what the optimal production source combination for future higher volumes will be, but for now if you order a Movi, it is made in Alabama.” Cooper, Patterson, and Dr. Ferniany bring a pragmatic approach to this question, however. “Ultimately, this is a licensed product and our manufacturing capacity and related costs will determine how and where we can manage production,” Dr. Ferniany remarks. “To be honest, UAB owns the intellectual property associated with Movi and Stingray, but we rely very strongly on our business partners to manage the design and production. The expertise we bring includes access to a world-renowned medical research facility for product testing and evaluation, but we are certainly not in the manufacturing business. We license every patent we hold and stand as an equity partner in that relationship.”

Cooper and Movi are very happy with that arrangement. “We have a design development map for future products,” Cooper explains, “and as a partner UAB is very involved with facilitating our testing of new innovations. They trust our ability to design and our understanding of clients’ needs.”

In the end Cooper, like Patterson and Dr. Ferniany, see Movi and Stingray as tools for living. “I have faced the challenge of having a parent who could have greatly benefited from a chair like Movi,” Cooper says. “My goal is to help patients to be as independent as possible, as safe as possible, and to be able to have their physical and emotional needs met as best as possible.” Dr. Ferniany explains it in terms that reflect the core business of UAB and the Movi/UAB partnership: “This is technology that makes us more efficient, but most importantly it enhances the patient experience.”

Beginning in November, users will be able to have this experience one of two ways—with the original Movi, suitable for home use, or with Stingray, custom designed, with individual finishes, bringing ergonomics, innovation, and fine design something other than the ordinary transport chair.

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