Things to Consider when Shopping for an Alternating Air Pressure Mattress

Alternating pressure mattress systems by Select Medical

What makes a good Alternating Air Pressure Mattress?

I should write more about alternating air pressure mattress systems. I certainly talk about pressure relieving mattress and cushion products more than enough with family and work colleagues.

In this post we’ll take a brief look at things to consider when purchasing an alternating air pressure mattress. So, let’s get straight to the point; a good alternating air pressure mattress is ALWAYS:

  • safe
  • clinically effective
  • easy to operate
  • infection control compliant
  • 100% reliable
  • suitable for use with every patient
  • quietly functioning
  • compatable with all nursing bed types
  • working for 10 years and more
  • suitable for use across all care establishments
  • comfortable for the cared for
  • affordable

No, of course you never get all of these characteristics in one system, but a well-designed alternating air pressure mattress designed for specific patient types and particular environments is unquestionably better at balancing these qualities.

Did you know… here in the UK, there are only a handful of businesses that specialise in the manufacture of alternating air pressure mattress products. Yet there are many dozens of A to Z of healthcare consumables and equipment vendors selling these products to care providers. Can your supplier of alternating air pressure mattress surfaces explain to you what you’re buying is right for your care establishment, and why?

Below I have provided a brief guide to help you shop for an alternating air pressure mattress:

Firstly, define your absolute requirements in an alternating air pressure mattress. For example, things to consider include…

  • replacement or overlay
  • full alternating air cell or static air/foam base
  • mechanical or digital pump
  • system features including static with auto-return; cycle fault etc…
  • visual or audible alerts
  • air cell material type
  • air cell design
  • top cover material type
  • warranty period
  • service & repair support

Although not an exhaustive list, the details above help create a template for matching your requirements in an alternating air pressure mattress system. It will help define a set of suitable contenders.

Next, decide your absolute priorities among the features you’re looking for…

If cost is a factor (and it often is), you can sort your contenders in order of price.  If you take this route, look to find the least expensive system that meets your minimum standards for the most important features and climb the price list of other products.  You may decide to ignore any system that doesn’t improve on the important features. For those systems that do have enhanced features, you can consider whether the the improvement is worth the extra price.  Ask yourself and then your supplier, is there any extra added value i.e. lifecycle costs?  How can this supplier support me after my initial purchase?  What are the unique qualities your supplier possesses coupled with the real differences in the alternating air pressure mattress systems you are being offered that will encourage you to invest more to find the right system?

Finally, look to see if the company from who you’re considering buying from can support you with ongoing alternating air pressure mattress training.  Training and development is a key ingredient of any successful workforce.  Understanding how to correctly operate an alternating air pressure mattress system is important for carers and those you care for even more so – make sure you ask for training; it will usually be provided FREE by the principle suppliers.

This process should work to leave you with a choice of potentially three options for an alternating air pressure mattress that are the best of their type within a fairly wide price range.  The process may also lead you to more than one possible supplier too!  Overall when considering your decision, the third-best support surface of a particular type may be significantly cheaper than the best of that kind, but in my experience, it will come with compromises that you will need to fully appreciate before committing to a purchase. For example. within our alternating air pressure mattress range, this system would be an OLA.

Across our brands, OLA is our entry level for an alternating air pressure mattress system and has set the benchmark in terms of price and quality at this level – does it cross all care establishments?  No, it does not!  But where it has excelled for over 10 years, is in the nursing home market to small groups and independent homes that have a low turnover of patients and the mattress remains at one location.  In the pressure care marketplace, there are some imitations of OLA that look identical to our pump casing, but that’s where the similarities end.

In summary, before committing to any purchase of an alternating air pressure mattress system, you will do well to remember to talk through the purchase in some detail with your supplier. If your supplier is not the manufacturer, does the system come from a credible source? Is it CE marked appropriately in accordance with current standards. Make certain you have a full appreciation of the differences from one alternating air pressure mattress over another. Only after gaining this level of information should you even think about parting with your hard earned cash. Remember – your organisation, the people inside it and those you care for are impacted by the pressure care purchase decisions you make.

In future blog entries, I’ll explain some of the interesting technologies that go into modern alternating air pressure mattress design and address controversial questions such as: does a more expensive alternating air pressure mattress system offer better pressure relief? Hybrid systems (foam/air) vs total alternating air pressure mattress systems, and why air cell design and its raw material used in the manufacturing process can impact on clinical efficacy and total lifecycle costs of an alternating air pressure mattress.

About the author – Ray Booth
Ray Booth is Research & Innovation Director at Select Medical. He has been involved in the pressure care equipment industry for over 20 years, and has created a wide range of well-designed alternating air pressure mattress systems for use in hospital, hospice and community healthcare sectors.


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