A finger amputation while opening a wheelchair has prompted the Patient Safety Authority (PSA) to issue a safety alert about wheelchair-related finger injuries. The alert warns hospitals and other healthcare facilities, as well as the public, to be vigilant when unfolding or sitting in the device.
Hundreds of wheelchair-related injuries have been reported nationwide into the Food and Drug Administration’s Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience (MAUDE) reporting system.
Improperly opening a folded wheelchair can cause finger injuries, including amputation, bone fractures, nail loss, cuts, crushing, and pinching. Some reported injuries occurred when users placed their hand on the seat to open the chair. Others happened when the user tried to sit in the chair to unfold it.
Wheelchairs are one of the most common assistive devices used in healthcare facilities, as well as malls, airports, arenas, courthouses, houses of worship, and other public buildings. They are often opened by volunteers, untrained staff, the users themselves or their family members.
“The big challenge is that wheelchairs seem so simple to use. Yet, there are so many different types of chairs that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to open them properly,” says Molly Quesenberry, PSA patient safely liaison, whose research led to the alert. "You really need the manufacturer’s instructions. Despite being an RN, I was never personally trained on how to unfold a wheelchair properly. I never realized the danger of losing a finger by improperly unfolding a wheelchair.”
She recommends that facilities consider replacing folding wheelchairs with rigid frame ones or using an anti-fold device to keep them open, if available.