Flipod: Relieving the burden on caregivers

Eason Chow (extreme right) and his team with Flipod

Flipod is a pneumatic assisted bed rotation device that was designed for non-ambulant patients. This device would relieve the need for manually and laboriously rotating non-ambulant patient’s body to simulate the natural tossing of our bodies during sleep. Usually, the caretakers do this manually every few hours which actually limits their nightly sleep time to only 3 hours, thus causing them to have a high chance of becoming depressed.

Flipod was invented by Eason Chow Wai Tung who is also its industrial designer. It was founded in the year 2014 as Eason’s thesis project in National University of Singapore for his study in Industrial Design. Flipod was the top 20 finalists for the prestigious James Dyson award which is an international design award that celebrates student inventions in Universities. The Flipod team also includes Yen Ching Chiuan – thesis mentor and head of the division of industrial design, Raymond Hon – Research Assistant and industrial designer (research, strategy and design), Melvin Loh Wee Chuan – Associate Director of MERCI and Rachel Hong Tsui Ying – Senior Associate Director & Advisor of MERCI.

I (VB) had the opportunity to speak with the inventor of Flipod, Eason Chow (EC) on his ideation of his invention, the future plans for Flipod as well as  some tips for med-tech start-ups.

VB: Could you please tell us, how you came up with the idea for Flipod?

EC: I volunteer at the MDAS (Muscular Dystrophy Association of Singapore), and I noticed that the caretakers always looked tired and frail. When I looked into the cause for the caretakers tiredness, I realised that most of them do not get a decent amount of sleep. They have to wake up constantly to reposition their non-ambulant loved ones to prevent pressure sores or bed sores. The current device in the market that helps to relieve this burden is a specialized big and bulky bed that is, first of all, very expensive but also has abrupt and brutal rotation motions that are not desirable for the patients.

This led me to believe that this was a definite area for improvement so I approached the topic for my thesis to seek a solution for this problem. I wanted to design a simple device that solves this common problem that is also co-created with the patients and the caretakers. I wanted the device to be affordable and ensured that every little detail  is made meaningful and useful for the end users.

VB: Can you tell us more about how Flipod works?

EC: Basically, there are 2 airbags that can be positioned at different areas of the back. We attached an air pump to the airbags to allow the 2 airbags to spontaneously inflate and deflate throughout the night to reposition the patient’s body. Flipod lifts the body on its side at an angle of 30 degrees which is the prescribed angle for bed rotation for non-ambulant patients by the World Health Organization.

Initially, the airbags were magnetically adjusted to different pressure points on the back but after a few trials, the feedback from the patients has allowed us to further improve on the idea by using velcro instead. We are using an industrial grade velcro now that is very thin eliminating the bump created by the magnets. This flexible adjustment of the airbags allows the users to personalize the module to suit their condition as advised by the therapist or the patients themselves.

The Flipod module is also flexible in the sense that now is just one module but we can spontaneously add different modules to suit the patients health conditions better.Flipod wants to achieve the target of covering the needs for continuous bed rotation care for the various non-ambulatory conditions while also maintaining its simplicity and affordability

VB: How did you get the medical know-how to create a feasible and relevant product?

EC: We are fortunate to be able to tap into the medical and MedTech development expertise from NUS MERCI (Medical Engineering Research & Commercialization Initiative) and the nursing homes.

First off, I did basic research on the medical problem, then we received medical insight from key healthcare professionals like the therapists and also consulted with the end users like the patients and the caregivers. The end users are like part of our team as they are very involved in the improvement of Fllipod. We followed 3 patients using Flipod for 2 weeks to improve Flipod based on their feedback.

VB: How does Flipod fill a gap in the healthcare ecosystem?

EC: Bed rotation for non-ambulant patients is a prevalent problem for all income groups yet individual to specific non-ambulatory conditions, therefore by keeping the idea simple and affordable yet flexible in its function, we saw the Flipod’s  potential in catering to the masses.

VB: What are your future plans for Flipod?

EC: We are currently still in the phase of clinical trials with elderly in nursing homes and will be ready to make plans for commercialization or licensing.

For the future, firstly,  we want to ensure that we stick to our key promise that is to make the product affordable for the users.We also want to make the product suitable for a wide variety of non-ambulant patients with different requirements like spinal injuries patients or obese patients.

VB: What advice will you give young start-ups in the med-tech industry?

EC: Firstly, staying focus to your intention when you initially set out to do,  secondly, do not hesitate to discard your initial ideas if they do fail to perform the best to your end users when tested and lastly, co-create the product with your end users when they will help you provide the most honest and straightforward inputs.