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How designing better medical beds can save lives

A New Zealand-designed medical bed is winning accolades worldwide. But more importantly, Howard Wright's M10 shows that good design can literally save lives.

It’s something we don’t like to think about, but we’ve all had experience with: medical beds.

Whether it’s in a hospital, at home, at a clinic, or anywhere else, the point is that most of us don’t exactly have the fondest memories of them – or, more specifically, what they’re associated with. But the truth is this: they’re pretty bloody important, not only in helping people recover, but their design can be crucial in preventing things like bedsores.

And guess what? There’s a New Zealand company addressing those things – and also winning some pretty prestigious global design awards in the process.

Taranaki-based Howard Wright Ltd won Gold in Product Design category at Australia’s Good Design Awards last month, in recognition for the design and innovation of Howard Wright’s M10 medical bed

Judges at the awards – in its 60th year – said the bed was a “brilliant example of seamless product design, detailed design resolution, highest quality manufacture and all-pervasive design thinking across the company culture and brand values”.

The M10 is but the latest medical bed made by Howard Wright. The company created its first hydraulically operated bed back in the early 1960s. In 1976, the M4 bed became a breakthrough internationally with remote hydraulic pumping at the foot end of the bed to raise the bed surface.

CEO Bruce Moller says the M10 represents a further evolution in medical bed design. “Our design mission was simple – to design the safest bed we have ever made,” he says. “To achieve this we focused on innovations in three key areas – preventing patient falls, pressure injuries and cross infection.”

Developed over a period of three years, Good Design Awards judges also said the bed is “an extremely well designed bed where safety features are high. The controls are user friendly and it is clear the design team has investigated context and personas well. They have empathised with patients and users and understood the end-to-end customer journey and pain points like no other, which both reflect in its flawless execution.”

The key aspect of preventing patient falls or injuries is the new split, safety sides which are attached to the bed frame and provide support for patients getting in and out of bed, says Howard Wright research and development manager Anthony Batley. “With the ability to lower the bed to just 340 millimetres, patients can put their feet flat on the floor and can grasp the sturdy safety side to assist them standing up.”

The electric bed positioning controls also include functions so the bed can automatically contour to a 30-degree back raised and 30-degree leg raised position, or even be converted into a chair. The 30-degree angles offer even pressure distribution, reducing the possibility of injuries like bedsores. Also, with the safety sides attached to the bed frame, when the bed’s mattress platform position is adjusted, gaps between the safety sides or gaps between the safety side and headboard remain consistent – minimising the chance of people getting stuck and not being able to get out.

As Batley says: “Removable deck panels and concealed cables enable simple and easy cleaning of the entire bed – reducing the potential for cross infection between patients.”

The Good Design Awards prize isn’t the first time Howard Wright has won some prestigious awards for its beds, either. Back in 2010, a previous model, the M8 critical care medical bed, won four design awards – including the top award – at the Australian International Design Awards. The M8 also won the international iF design award, a Red Dot design award, and an award here in Aotearoa at the Best Design Awards.

The M10 is made in New Plymouth, using approximately 70 percent New Zealand-designed and manufactured components.

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