A new invention brainstormed by a Spectrum Health radiology manager—and created through the help of Spectrum Health Innovations and Hope College students—could make procedures a lot more comfortable for larger patients.

Catheryn Peplinski, a Spectrum Health radiology manager, came up with the idea of a “pannus support” to help hold excess abdominal skin out of the way during scanning and other medical procedures.

Not only does the fabric device improve patients’ comfort levels, it reduces physical strain on technologists.

“I’ve been in the field for 31 years,” Peplinski said. “Years ago, we would tape the pannus up in order to be able to work underneath it.”

Standard practice these days is for the technologist to hold up the pannus with one hand while operating the scanning equipment with the other hand.

“It definitely was not the most comfortable for the patient (to have someone holding up the pannus), but tenfold for the sonographer while he or she was scanning,” Peplinski said. “It was taxing on the shoulders, arms and wrists.”

The other option was to have two staff members in the room, one to scan and one to hold the pannus. It’s not always practical or possible.

From mind to matter

Spectrum Health Innovations, with the help of Hope College students, took Peplinski’s idea and devised a fabric device that straps to the bed and holds the pannus up and out of the way during scans.

Roger L. Veldman, PhD, professor and chair of the Hope College engineering department in Holland, Michigan, said students were able to participate in the full design cycle.

“They started with a statement of need and worked through the year-long design class to deliver a working prototype,” Veldman said. “Working directly with members of the Spectrum Health medical team throughout the design process ensured that the final product design met all of the necessary requirements. It was extremely rewarding for these students to see their efforts result in a functioning product that will benefit medical staff and patients alike.”

Innovations worked with MarketLab in Caledonia, Michigan, to manufacture the device, which is available now.

“It’s very exciting to watch something go from idea into development process and to the manufacturer and then a product to be sold,” Peplinski said. “It took about a year from start to finish. It will definitely be an aid for us.”

Leah Konwinski, Spectrum Health’s safety and reliability manager and a certified ergonomist, said the current practice of lifting a pannus puts staff members at a higher risk of injury.

They’re exposed to three risk factors: exerting force, being in an awkward position and holding something for a long time.

“I see this as something that benefits staff members because it reduces their risk of injury,” Konwinski said. “It makes their job easier because they can produce a high-quality study. It has the added win of being great for the patient experience. It can be challenging to provide a great experience for a person of size.”

The device was born out of an exploratory project with Hope College, seeking ways to improve ergonomics and other aspects of work for ultrasound technologists, said Scott Daigger, manager of Spectrum Health Innovations.

“We’re excited to see the pannus support get to the point where it will be a product for sale through MarketLab, so that clinicians across the country can use it,” Daigger said. “The pannus support was an idea that came out of that effort, and has since evolved to the point where we now have a product that works and will help our clinicians and patients.”