Obesity is a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health. While this condition was not very common before the 1900s, it is now estimated that about 10% of the world population may be obese. A new field of medicine called bariatric medicine has evolved in the past several decades to treat obesity as well as to treat the medical conditions that come with it, such as diabetes. With this new field of medicine also came the need for special equipment in homes and hospitals that could be safe with overweight patients. Special bariatric beds have been developed that support weights over 1000 pounds. These beds also require special mattresses that relieve pressure under the weight of obese patients and prevent pressure sores and ulcers. Many bariatric patients have trouble walking or standing for an extended length of time. Therefore, special extra-wide heavy-duty wheelchairs have been developed to support obese patients and special shower chairs have been designed to allow these patients to shower without having to stand. Even large chairs and toilets have been developed for the bariatric medicine industry along with patient lifts to pick up patients that cannot move themselves and are too heavy for other people to move them.
Since the goal of bariatric medicine is to help obese patients lose weight in different ways, it is very important to be able to weigh them with bariatric scales. These scales come in several different forms. For patients who can stand on their own but may need some support, bariatric rail scales are platform scales that include a railing that the patient can hold to steady himself. Chair scales allow a patient to sit on a chair while being weighed. A very efficient scale for the bariatric medicine field is the wheelchair scale. These scales allow the patient to be weighed while sitting in a wheelchair. The most important requirement of wheelchair scales is that they are very low to the ground. The lower a scale is, the shorter the ramp up to the scale must be. One scale manufacturer, Arlyn Scales, produces electronic wheelchair scales that have a low profile of only 1 7/8 for very easy loading. Bariatric wheelchair scales should be wide enough so that they can support a bariatric wheelchair. They should include rails around three edges so that the person loading the wheelchair onto the scale cannot push it over the other side by accident, causing harm to the patient. In addition, electronic wheelchair scales should have a large, bright digital indicator so that the weight can be read by the health care provider from a distance. When buying a bariatric wheelchair scale, a hospital must consider the ruggedness of the scale. When a wheelchair is loaded onto a digital platform scale, the weight of the patient plus the weight of the wheelchair can cause an excessive shock load on the edge of the platform. It is important that the weight transducers within the body of the scale be able to survive this shock load. Many digital scale manufacturers use aluminum load cells when building wheelchair scales since it is cheap and is easy to manufacture. However, under severe shock loads and overload, these aluminum load cells are apt to bend permanently and be destroyed. The best industrial scales for these applications use stainless steel load cells that are much more rugged and can hold up to overload. In rare cases, it may not even be plausible to be able to remove a bariatric patient from their bed. In some cases they may be too heavy to support themselves or may not even fit into a wheelchair. However, it is still necessary to weigh these patients. Scale manufacturing companies such as Arlyn Scales specialize in working with customers to develop custom weighing solutions. In this case, these companies may recommend that load sensor be built directly into the legs of a custom-made bed. The weights recorded by each load cell can then be added up and the weight of the bed can be subtracted from the total to calculate a final patient weight. Other custom weighing solutions may be useful in bariatric medicine. Wheelchair scales may be connected via USB or Ethernet to a computer system, allowing hospitals to keep precise weight records for each patient.