Most Hazardous Types of Patient Transfers in Long-Term Care


In the long-term care environment, patient transfers are a routine aspect of care but carry a risk of danger. Each transfer has the potential to become a life-altering incident that could result in lasting harm to the patient or the provider.

Importance of Safe Patient Transfers

Patient transfers play a vital role in long-term care settings, facilitating care procedures and enhancing the patient's mobility and overall quality of life. Transfers, however, bring potential risks to both patients and the providers helping them. These risks can include falls, strains, and accidental injuries.

Because of the risks that are inherent with patient transfers, it is vital that those providing care understand these hazards and how to avoid them. Having the correct education and equipment is essential to keeping patient transfers safe.

Top Most Hazardous Types of Patient Transfers in Long-Term Care

Each type of patient transfer has unique risks. Some, however, carry a much higher degree of risk than others.

Lateral Transfers

This type of transfer involves moving a patient horizontally from one flat surface to another. There are two key areas of risk associated with this type of transfer. Firstly, for the providers, lateral transfers require lifting a weight in front of them while extending, creating strain that is difficult to avoid. Secondly, there can be a risk of friction and shear to the patient or addtional risk if the two surfaces move during the transfer.

Reducing the risk to the patient involves always ensuring that both surfaces are locked in place and unable to move during the transfer. For the providers, the risk can be reduced by lessening the work and therefore strain they experience during the transfer. This can be achieved by using sliding sheets, air transfers or slideboards to reduce friction while moving the patient.

Bed to Wheelchair Transfers

Transferring a patient from a bed to a wheelchair is a very common risk-prone activity. Patients with mobility impairment may require extensive help, making it necessary for the provider to bear most of the patient’s weight. This increases the risk of both falls and injury to the provider. Worsening the risks associated with this type of transfer is the fact that providers often attempt this type of transfer alone, reducing their ability to get help. 

To mitigate the risks associated with bed-to-wheelchair transfers, caregivers are encouraged to have someone else helping them. Providers should also use techniques like the stand-and-pivot and consider safe lift equipment, such as transfer belts or slides, for all patients. For more impaired patients, equipment like a sit-to-stand lift or Hoyer lift may be the only way to safely transfer a patient.

Mechanical Lift Transfers

Mechanical lifts significantly assist in patient transfers and can meaningfully reduce the risk of injury if used correctly. If misused or if the equipment is old or poorly maintained, serious injuries can occur. While mechanical lifts offer a much better safety profile than manual lifts, there is a higher potential for serious harm when a mechanical lift is misused or fails when compared to manual lifts. 

Mechanical lift transfers are safe and effective when the equipment is in good working order and when staff understand how to use the equipment correctly. Staff must be correctly educated on what types of equipment to use for which situations and how to use each piece of equipment correctly. When investing in lift equipment, leaders should choose equipment that is intuitive and easy to use.

Toilet Transfers

Toilet transfers, although seemingly straightforward, can be tricky and dangerous. Hazards include falls due to the confined environment of a bathroom, the difficulty of getting on and off a toilet, and the lack of support. Additionally, toileting that requires a lengthy transfer process can encourage risky transfer behaviors in order to make it to the toilet in time.

Implementing safety measures like installing grab bars and raising toilet seats can enhance safety during these transfers. Implementing regularly scheduled toileting can help to reduce the risk of urgent situations where unsafe behaviors are more likely.

Strategies for Reducing Risks During Patient Transfers

A comprehensive fall reduction program is the cornerstone of fall risk reduction. Employing advanced equipment and technology is essential to facilitate safer transfers. Staff education also plays a crucial role in reducing patients’ fall risk, promoting the recognition of fall risks, the use of correct techniques, and the application of effective tools for reducing risk.

Interdisciplinary communication and teamwork are an important part of a fall reduction program, fostering a holistic and collaborative approach to patient care. Clinical leaders should develop and maintain a comprehensive fall reduction program to promote a culture of safety and reduce the risk of falls. 


Patient transfers, while a routine part of long-term care, harbor many potential hazards. An understanding of these risks, coupled with the implementation of safe practices and the use of appropriate transfer equipment is essential. Joerns is committed to helping long-term care facilities reduce their fall risks. Contact us today so that we can work together to help keep your patients and staff safe.

Safe Patient Handling Checklist CTA


This page may contain links to third party websites. Please note that Joerns Healthcare is not responsible for the information, content, or product(s) found on third party websites.