Patient Transfer Techniques You Need to Know When Caring for Your Patient

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Patient Transfer Techniques

If you’re the type of person who needs to transfer patients frequently it’s important that you know the most common patient transfer techniques and that you also know how to use them. We’ll talk about the different steps that it’s going to take to get your patient from one location to another, and we’ll make sure that you have the opportunity to help your patients.


Most Common Patient Transfer Techniques


So, just what are the most common patient transfer techniques? We’re going to take a closer look at them right here. There are a few that you want to pay attention to and learn more about, so make sure you watch what they are and where they’re commonly used. With falling deaths on the rise with our aging population, it’s more important then ever.

Independent Transfer With Device

Man Using Security Pole

An independent transfer with a device means that the patient is actually moving on their own, but they’re using some type of transfer device. They may be using a security pole, a grab bar or a walker or cane. They might need just a little bit of support to move around or stand, but not necessarily from a nurse or medical professional.

This type of transfer is generally used for patients who are attempting to walk from one location to another. The patient must be fairly mobile on their own in order to use this type of transfer and the device must be nearby as they are unable to move without it.


Sitting Up on the Side of the Bed

Caregiver transferring man from lying to sitting position

If a patient has difficulty moving getting out of their bed they may be able to at least help you out by sitting up on the side of the bed. These patients may then need some help in order to stand up from the bed or to move from the bed to anywhere else. Overall, however, the patient is able to move their legs and to walk, though possibly with the assistance of a medical device or a medical professional to help them along. The idea is to get the patient sitting on their own and to assist them from there as necessary.


Pivot Transfer

A pivot transfer means that you’re going to assist the patient with standing up from one location to sitting in another. So, for example, you may help your patient to stand up from a seated position on the side of their bed and then spin slightly to sit down in their wheelchair. This type of transfer is used when a patient is unable to stand or unable to stand for extended periods and most definitely is incapable of actually walking. For patients with even more difficulty moving a pivot disc can be a great addition because it allows you to turn the patient without them having to turn at all.

Pivot Transfer

Pivot Transfer


Side by Side 2 Person Transfer

If the patient is incapable of moving steadily on their own you may need to get a partner to help transfer them. This type of transfer means that you would have two people, one on each side of the patient, and you would each stand together to move the patient from one location to another. You could use this to help walk a patient between the two of you from the bed to the bathroom. This makes sure the patient is getting up and walking, but doesn’t put them in charge of their own balance and movement.


Boosting in Bed

When it comes to moving a patient within their own bed you may need to boost them. While this isn’t exactly the same as transferring them, it’s still an important part of the process of moving them around. When your patient is not comfortable in their bed you may need to boost them with another person. This generally involves using the bed sheet underneath them to pull them upwards on the bed or maneuver them to one side or another. It’s a very simple movement and it doesn’t require the patient to move on their own at all.


Lift Transfer

There are actually a couple different lift transfers available. One of these is a sit to stand lift. This is used when the patient is able to move somewhat on their own, but is not able to put enough weight on their legs to actually stand on their own. They can be used to stand a patient up and then seat them again or to help with therapy. On the other hand a full body lift moves patients who are not able to move at all on their own. These lifts are generally used to reposition a patient or to help with things such as bathing.


Most Common Transfer Moves


Now, how are you going to transfer your patient using each of these patient transfer techniques? Where are you actually going to transfer them to? You can use the steps we’ve outlined above to get your patients into specific places like a wheelchair, a bed or a regular chair.

There are also plenty of other places you can transfer a patient to, so, take a closer look at each of these and each of the ways that you can use a transfer device to help them get from one of these positions to an entirely different one. Of course, you can also do it yourself or with a second medical professional as well if you prefer.

From Sitting to Standing With Primary Patient Support

If your patient is able to walk but needs some additional support for standing then you may want to look at these options. Patients that fall under this category have a bit of strength, they just need a little bit more help along the way. In this move you’re going to get the patient to a sitting position, which they may be able to do on their own. From there, they need to be stood and then moved to a different location, whether that’s their bed, a chair, a wheelchair or even to the bathroom.

If you need some additional help with these types of patients you may want to look at a lift cushion or a lift chair. These types of cushion fit underneath the seat that the patient is sitting on and then give the ma little bit of a boost as they’re trying to get up. A lift chair gives even more of a boost. The chairs are electronic and when the patient wants to stand they can press a button that raises the chair and forces them into a standing position. From here, the medical personnel can assist with movement.

From Sitting to Standing with Help From Another Person

If a patient is able to walk with the assistance of a walker or a cane but not able to walk independently they may need a little more assistance in getting from a sitting position to a standing position. These patients may be able to stand somewhat or at least with the assistance of the medical support device to help hold them in a standing position. This means that the medical personnel would have a somewhat harder position if they are not using any type of equipment or assistive device.

Medical support gear or transfer equipment such as a patient transfer sling can be a good idea and help provide the patient the support they need and the medical professional the safety that they need. These slings are very much what they sound like, a heavy duty fabric with a handle that two people can hold onto and use to pull or lift the patient to the position needed. The sling needs to be behind the patient in order to work and would need to be comfortable enough that it could stay there most of the time. This can be done if the patient is lying down most of the time or generally needs assistance only when starting from a lying down position.

From Sitting to Standing with Minimal Patient Support

If the patient is not able to walk but they are still able to bear at least some weight on their legs (therefore able to remain in a standing position for a period of time) then the individual in charge of moving them will need to provide more support. It can be a little more difficult to transfer these patients because they are not able to assist in their own movement and are fully reliant on the medical professional staff. This means the staff will need to get them up to a standing position then over to a different location.

The best equipment for this type of transfer is generally a sit to stand lift. These lifts will take the patient from a sitting position to a standing position and then lower them back down to a sitting position again. So, if the patient is able to get themselves to a sitting position or is able to at least hold a sitting position this works best. The sling of the machine would be wrapped around them and the machine (which operates electronically) would be able to pull them into a standing position and hold them there.

Wheelchair to Toilet

Every patient you have is going to need to go to the bathroom in one way or another, but any patient that is able to go to an actual bathroom rather than using a bedpan is definitely going to want that ability. This means you may need different types of assistance to get a patient from their wheelchair to the bathroom in order to use it. Patients with more mobility may only need a walker to stand and move to the bathroom, others may need additional support.

A curved transfer board is great for patients with a little more mobility. You place one end of the board on the wheelchair and the other end of the board at the toilet and allow the patient (with assistance) to slide across the board from one to another. This also allows them to get back into the wheelchair. On the other hand, a sit to stand lift can also be used if the patient is unable to walk for themselves and yet is able to stand for a short period of time. These lifts can then move the patient to the new location.

Bed to Chair

No one is going to want to sit or lay in their bed all day and that’s why transferring from a bed to a chair is an important step. This type of transfer is generally not attempted when the patient is unable to stand, walk or otherwise move on their own, however it might be. This means that it’s important for medical personnel to understand different options for how to get them from one place to another, even if the patient is not able to provide assistance of their own in any way.

A pivot disc can help patients who are able to stand but not able to walk on their own at all, as can a sit to stand lift. These allow the patient to be brought to a standing position and then remain their for a short period (very short) before being moved to the seated position. Patients that are unable to walk at all may need a full body lift. On the other hand, patients who are able to walk with assistance may only need to use a walker or a can to get from the bed to the chair.

Wheelchair to Vehicle

Transferring a patient to a vehicle can be a difficult process depending on how mobile they actually are. This transfer is an important one, however, because it allows the patient more freedom to get around. They’re able to go to different places, enjoy different events and more. So, making sure that this type of transfer can be done for as many patients as possible is definitely important. Still, it’s important to use the right safety equipment to make sure that the patient is able to do this safely and this requires different evaluations of the patients abilities.

A patient who is not able to stand or who is unsteady may be able to use a slide transfer board. With these you would get the patient right next to the vehicle seat and use the slide board with one end on the wheelchair and one on the seat in the car and have them slide across. Handybars are another option and these small devices clip into the latch when your vehicle door is open and provide support from the vehicle to stand. Patients who are unable to stand or who are unable to transfer on their own may require a lift to help them get from a wheelchair into a vehicle.

Wheelchair to Bathtub

Transferring your patient from their wheelchair into the bathtub is another important step and provides them with a little more comfort as well. No one likes to spend a lot of time without taking a shower or bath and when your patient can enjoy getting clean they’re going to be a whole lot happier for themselves. So, transferring them in this way is important, but it can be a little difficult for some because a bathtub is so low but the step to get into it is generally so high. That’s where the equipment comes in.

The bathtub transfer bench is generally the best way that you can move a patient from their wheelchair, a walker or any other assistive device to the bathtub and they’re quite simple to use as well. All you need to do is set one end of the bench outside the tub and the other side inside, so that it goes right over the edge of the tub. Then, get the patient seated on one end of the bench and then slide them across to the side that’s in the tub. They’re ready to take a shower or a bath.

Floor to Chair After a Fall

If your patient falls it’s important to evaluate them quickly and completely to make sure that they are safe and to get them up off the floor. Now, it’s crucial that you evaluate them for pain, broken bones or any other injuries before moving them and call for emergency services if the patient appears to have any problems. If the patient is generally fine but unable to support themselves to get up (if this was their condition prior to the fall) then there are devices that you can use to help them get from the floor to a chair to better evaluate them.

The best device for this situation is the emergency lifting cushion. This cushion actually allows you to bring the patient up to a higher position quickly and easily using air and an electronic system. You would slide the cushion underneath the patient and get them to a seated position, either on their own or with your assistance. Holding them in a seated position is best as well because you would then need to pump up the cushion, which raises the patient and can throw them off balance. This brings them to a traditional seated position which then generally allows them to stand. Patients who are not able to stand from a seated position may require a lift.


Transfer Devices


There are a number of different transfer devices out there that will help assist with the patient transfer techniques we’ve outlined above. Let’s take a quick peek at what you might need to use in order to protect yourself and your patient during a transfer.

Slide Transfer Board – This type of board is straight and allows the patient to sit on one side and to be easily slid over to the other side. The two sides can be placed on different chairs, a bed and a chair or any other surface. Also, for patients who are unable to slide there are boards that have a seat so you can slide them without their input.

Curved Transfer Board – A curved transfer board is very similar to a traditional slide transfer board. This board just has a curve to it in case the patient needs to get from a wheelchair, for example (which has armrests) to another surface. It curves them around to slide there.

Transfer Bench – A standard transfer bench actually has legs that attach to the floor. The patient is then able to sit on one side and slide across to the other, which is generally used for things like getting a patient into the shower if they are not able to step over the lip.

Lifting Cushion – These cushions are important if your patient falls and needs assistance getting up. It’s a cushion that can be put underneath them and when they sit on it the cushion can be filled to get them to a more standard height seated position so they can stand up comfortably and safely.

Stander EZ Stand N Go – This is actually a set of support bars that can be inserted into the chair that the patient is going to use so that they have the support they need to stand when they want to. These type of bars are for patients who need assisted transfers.

Transfer Pivot Disc – A pivot disc is just what it sounds like. It’s a small disc that sits on the floor and the patient steps onto it. Then, it can be spun so that the patient is turned and able to sit immediately back down without needing to take a step on their own.

Transfer Wheelchair – A transfer wheelchair is a slightly smaller chair that generally has a few less of the comforts and frills. These chairs allow a patient to be moved from one location to another but don’t allow the patient to push themselves as with the larger-wheeled versions of wheelchairs.

Transfer Pole – A transfer pole attaches to the floor and the ceiling and may or may not have a handle. These poles can support full body weight for an individual who needs help pulling themselves up from a seated position. They’re typically used in bathrooms but can be used in other rooms as well.

Bed Assist Bar – For patients who need help moving around in bed or getting into or out of the bed a bed assist bar is a good idea. These bars attach to the bed itself and fit near the head so the patient can pull themselves where they want to be and get the support they need.

Cane – For patients who are relatively stable while walking but who need just a little extra assistance a cane can be the right way to go. These provide only a minimal amount of support and the patient is primarily required to support themselves.

Walker – Patients who need a little more support may need a walker, which gives them four additional points of contact with the ground. This makes sure that if the patients legs give out at all they have the walker to lean on for additional support until they can get their balance back.

Wheelchair – A wheelchair allows a patient to sit and still get around as they need to. These traditional styles of wheelchairs have larger back wheels that allow the patient to push themselves as needed, though they can still be pushed by others as well if need be.

Grab Bar – Grab bars come in all different shapes, sizes and styles and can be put anywhere throughout a home. This makes them very convenient for those who are not quite steady or who are generally steady but might need help along the way. They allow the patient to support their weight at a moments notice if they become unsteady.

Patient Transfer Sling – A transfer sling is used for patients who are unable to assist with their own transfer. These fit under the patient and can lift them up from wherever they currently are and move them to a different location. This can also be easier on the caregiver themselves.

Universal Standing Handle – If the patient needs a little bit of extra help but not a full assist then these handles can help. The caregiver holds one side and the patient holds the other and they can then be helped to a standing position by using the bar and the caregiver as their support system.

Stander HandyBar – For patients who want to travel or take a vehicle somewhere these bars are great because they are small and allow the patient to use the weight of the vehicle to steady themselves. The bar clips into the latch that’s left open when the vehicle door is open and then lets them put all their weight on it.

Patient Transfer Pad – Transfer pads are designed to help with moving a patient around in their bed, for example. These can be placed under the patient and can then be used to slide them. Larger transfer pads can also be used to pick up a patient and move them to a stretcher or different bed.

Gait Belt – Gait belts are used when a patient is able to walk but is very unsteady. These belts fit around the waist and allow a caregiver to pull the patient up if they start to fall or direct them as needed while they are walking.

Patient Lift – Finally, a patient lift could be a sit to stand lift or a full body lift. These provide different amounts of support for patients who are in need of help to get up from one place and get to a different one, whether a wheelchair, a regular chair, a bed or anywhere else.


Use Proper Body Mechanics While Performing Patient Transfer Techniques


When it comes to transferring patients do you know what the general rules are? If you are a medical professional you probably have seen these before, but if you’re providing assistance to a loved one you may not quite understand the process. These rules are put in place to help give the patient independence as well as the protect the safety of both the patient and the caregiver. So make sure that you’re looking at each of these and that you fully understand them as well.

  • Always allow your patient to provide as much assistance as possible
  • Always estimate your patients weight and mentally prepare for the process
  • Always make sure the floor is safe for a patient transfer (no spilled substances or obstacles)
  • Always keep your feet shoulder width apart for balance and support
  • Always keep the patient as close to your body as possible
  • Always tighten the stomach muscles to use your core
  • Always bend at the knees and hips, not the back
  • Always use your legs to do the lifting, not your back
  • Never twist your back while lifting, pivot with your feet
  • Never lift a patient that you are unsure of

Of course, some of these may seem obvious or you may assume that you already do these things and that’s good, but knowing what you’re doing and making sure that you continue to follow each of these guidelines is going to be extremely important. You’ll also want to know how to position yourself when you’re assisting your patient with different types of movements and different types of equipment. So, besides just keeping your feet shoulder width apart and keeping the patient close, there are other things you’ll need to know.

  • When assisting a patient on a sliding board – Place a pillow or towel under the knee and kneel to transfer while keeping the back straight
  • When assisting a patient who is fully dependent – Stand with feet shoulder width apart and keep the back straight, contracting the ab muscles, put weight on the legs and lower body
  • When assisting a patient who is partially independent – Stand with feet shoulder width apart and keep the back straight, contracting the ab muscles, put weight on the legs and lower body but do not take all patient weight on yourself
  • When assisting a patient who is fully independent – Stand with feet shoulder width apart and keep the back straight, contracting the ab muscles, put weight on the legs and lower body and prepare to take patient weight, but do not until necessary

Frequently Asked Questions About Patient Transfer Techniques


Within this field and trying to understand different techniques to transfer patients there are a number of different questions that a caregiver may have. So, we’re going to talk about some of the most commonly asked questions regarding patient transfers, different types of equipment and definitely what you should and should not be doing in order to protect your patient and yourself.

How Do I Transfer From Bed to Chair?

This type of transfer is going to depend on just how mobile the patient is. If they are able to stand and to walk with an assistive device or with a 2 person transfer they can do that. If they are able to stand but not to walk they may need a pivot disc, which they can stand up onto and the disc can be turned to allow them to stand then turn and sit immediately again. If they can’t stand or walk they may need a full body lift to help them.

How Do I Transfer From Wheelchair to Car?

This is another type of transfer that will be different depending on just how mobile the patient is. If they are able to walk short distances they may be able to take the couple steps from the chair to the vehicle and sit. If not, a pivot disc can help to turn them and seat them again. A slide board can make it easier to slide from the current chair to the seat of the vehicle or a handybar may give them the support they need to boost themselves. Full body lifts are available as well if needed for completely immobile patients.

How Do You Transfer a Patient Safely?

This is going to depend on where you’re transferring them to and just how mobile the patient is, however there are some general guidelines that you can follow. You should always allow your patient to do as much of the weight bearing and work as they are capable of and you should also make sure you stand with your feet shoulder width apart and brace yourself with your lower body. Also, make sure that you always bend at the knees and support with your lower body rather than bending at the back or supporting any weight there.

How Do You Move an Elderly Person in Bed?

If you have an elderly person that you are caring for and they are unable to reposition themselves one of the best things that you can use is a sheet or sling under the patient. Typically, a sheet can be laid across the bed, under the patient which then two people can use to slide the patient up. This allows you to reposition them (also side to side) without having to physically touch the patient, which could risk an injury.

What Should You Avoid When Moving a Patient?

You should avoid taking on too much weight when the patient is able to do so themselves. You should also avoid lifting a patient that you are unsure of or using a technique or piece of equipment that you are unsure of. Not only that but you should make sure that you are never lifting with your back or twisting your body when attempting a move. Make sure you are never lifting anything over your head, stretching or leaning out too far from your center of gravity.

How Do You Do a 2 Person Transfer?

These transfers can actually be easier on the caregiver because you’re dividing out the weight between yourself and another person. With this type of transfer, depending on where the patient is starting, you have one person on each side and you either raise the patient to a standing position yourselves or assist them in reaching a standing position (if they are able). From here, you can either jointly walk them to another location or you can pivot them and sit them down in a chair, a wheelchair or on a toilet or the edge of a bed.

What Type of Transfer is My Patient?

If your patient is not able to provide any form of assistance when you are transferring them they are considered a fully dependent transfer. This means they are fully reliant on you. If they can provide you with some assistance but they can’t all of the steps themselves they are considered an assisted transfer. Finally, if the patient is able to do all of the steps themselves but still needs a little support along they way they are considered an independent transfer.

What is a Functional Transfer?

A functional transfer is similar to an assisted transfer or an independent transfer. These are patients who are able to do most if not all of the tasks that are necessary to get around in their day to day life but they may need a little bit of additional support in order to help them. They may be able to walk but may not be perfectly steady. They may be able to stand but can’t do so without something to push off of. There are many other examples, but these patients are generally capable of providing a good amount of help in their own transfer.

What is Considered Maximum Assistance?

If you and other caregivers are providing 75% or more of the support and effort of a transfer and the patient is providing 25% or less and also if you have three or more points of contact with the patient this is considered maximum assistance. This is the most that you are physically capable of doing in order to get the patient from one place to the other. If this is required to perform an activity safely or to allow the patient to perform an activity it is maximum assistance.


Final Thoughts


Overall, there are a number of different ways that you can transfer a patient. There are a number of different types of equipment that can be used to transfer a patient. And there are definitely plenty of things that you can and should be doing to keep yourself and the patient safe along the way. No matter what it is that you want to do, it’s important that you pay close attention to your patient and what they’re capable of before deciding how you’re going to transfer or just what tools you might need along the way.

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