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Finding the Right Incontinent Pad for Low-Airflow Beds

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(Photo: © iStockphoto / Nuno André)

Eric Frederick |

ROANOKE, Va. — In the battle to improve patient outcomes, many facilities are trying out low-airflow beds. These beds are designed to pump air through the mattress and provide a cooler, dryer environment to improve the skin care for high-risk patients. These beds are extremely expensive, and the good news is that almost all the bed linens currently in use work well with this new bed.

The bad news is that traditional incontinent pads are not recommended for use on low-airflow beds. The traditional barrier backing inhibits air flow and creates a zone where there is no air movement. Bed manufacturers recommend the use of a special disposable pad that is designed to allow air to flow through the pad.

These beds came to my attention when staff on several floors suddenly requested that they no longer receive reusable incontinent pads because they had just gotten these new beds. I started immediately to research the beds, the disposable pads, and if there were any reusable incontinent pads accepted for use.

Since the purpose of these expensive beds is to improve the skin care of at-risk patients, it is imperative that they contribute to a noticeable improvement in patient outcomes. Because of this need to justify the expenditure of capital funds on new beds, the hospital staff will always follow manufacturer recommendations. Therefore, it was no surprise when they stopped using the normal incontinent pads.

The problem with disposable incontinent pads is that once moisture is added to the pad, they no longer allow air to pass through the pad. The fluid-absorbent gel in the pad creates an impenetrable barrier. Since there is normally a delay between the use of a pad and when it is changed, there is a period of time when the low air-flow bed is not providing an improved micro environment for the patient.

The disposable pads also do not provide a safe product to lift or reposition the patient. The absorbent material in the disposable pads will cause major problems for the laundry if they are not removed during soil sorting and they get into a washing machine. This problem is especially severe if you use a tunnel washer.

I checked with several major linen companies to see if they had developed a pad that would work on a low-airflow bed. I was looking for a pad that would provide the benefits on a continuous basis.

Key factors to be considered are:

  • Is the pad commercially washable?
  • Can it be effectively dried in a commercial dryer?
  • Does it wick the moisture away from the patient?
  • Does the airflow feature of the pad work under dry and wet conditions?
  • Is it strong enough to be used to lift and reposition a patient?

Two linen companies said they have developed pads to use with these beds. Their documentation includes air permeability studies and some clinical studies. I will be field testing these pads in the near future. Nursing has realized the potential problems with the disposable incontinent pads and is willing to look at a more effective alternative.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at efrederick@carilion.com.

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