Newswise — SEATTLE – (Nov. 6, 2014) – A “therapy car” developed at Virginia Mason Hospital & Seattle Medical Center is being used by its physical and occupational therapists to help patients recovering from hip and knee replacement surgery simulate getting in and out of a real vehicle without falling or injuring themselves.

Concurrently, Virginia Mason’s application for a patent on this invention is being reviewed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. View the published patent applicationThe therapy car, which weighs less than 150 pounds, is constructed of lightweight plastic tubing and connectors that allow a variety of configurations to help patients practice mobility. It includes a cushioned car-like passenger seat. The device’s height can be adjusted to correspond with the type of vehicle (i.e., compact, sedan or sports utility vehicle) the patient is likely to get in when he or she leaves the hospital. It also has wheels, allowing therapists to easily move it to meet an individual patient’s post-surgery rehabilitation needs. Most of the time, the car is “parked” in the Virginia Mason Orthopedics Unit therapy gym and used there by patients. See therapy car in video

“A patient with a new hip or knee faces restrictions and physical limitations that make getting in and out of a car a significant challenge,” said Deborah Cutchin, director, Virginia Mason Kaizen Promotion Office. “Until our team developed the therapy car, none of our patients was able to realistically practice getting in and out of a vehicle before they actually got into one to go home after surgery. “This scenario posed a significant safety risk for them,” she added.

That safety hazard – and the lack of adjustable, lightweight, commercially manufactured devices to assist orthopedic surgery patients – inspired Virginia Mason team members to action. Several occupational and physical therapists, a patient transporter, a patient care technician and a specialist from the Virginia Mason Kaizen Promotion Office collaborated during a two-day workshop to design a prototype. This process included sketching ideas, building tabletop mockups, and conducting simulations. A Virginia Mason vendor representative with an engineering background developed the design schematic based on the staff’s list of functional requirements for the prototype.

“This project is an example of the Virginia Mason Production System principle of ‘innovate your own solutions,’” said Todd Inslee, technology transfer director, Virginia Mason Intellectual Property Ventures. “We did not buy something already on the market and try to make it work. That can be wasteful, like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Instead, we used innovation and creativity to efficiently develop a unique resource that meets a unique need of our orthopedic patients.”

Virginia Mason Production System, based on concepts and principles of the Toyota Production System, is the management methodology used across the Virginia Mason organization to encourage innovation that continually improves quality, safety and the total patient experience.

Virginia Mason Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department team members are still considering a formal name for the “therapy car” and they continue to solicit ideas from patients about how the device might be improved. Inslee envisions the therapy car being commercially manufactured someday and available to benefit orthopedic patients across the nation.

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