A stretcher is an apparatus used for moving patients who require medical care. A basic type (cot or litter) must be carried by two or more people. Whereas a wheeled stretcher (known as a gurney, trolley, bed or cart) is often equipped with variable height frames containing wheels, tracks, or skids. In American English, a wheeled stretcher is referred to as a gurney. The name comes from a horse-drawn cab patented in the USA by J. Theodore Gurney in 1883 which bore a similarity to early wheeled stretchers.
EMS stretchers used in ambulances have wheels that makes transportation over pavement easier, and have a lock inside the ambulance and seatbelts to secure the patient during transport. An integral lug on the gurney locks into a sprung latch within the ambulance in order to prevent movement during transport. Modern stretchers may also have battery-powered hydraulics to raise and collapse the legs automatically. This eases the workload on EMS personnel, who are statistically at high risk of back injury from repetitive raising and lowering of patients. Specialized bariatric stretchers are also available, which feature a wider frame and higher weight capacity for heavier patients. Stretchers are usually covered with a disposable sheet or wrapping, and are cleaned after each patient to prevent the spread of infection. Shelves, hooks and poles for medical equipment and intravenous medication are also frequently included.
Simple stretchers are the most rudimentary type. They are lightweight and portable, made of canvas or other synthetic material suspended between two poles or tubular aluminum frame. Many are stored as disaster supplies and are often former military equipment.
The folding stretcher, also known as a top deck or collapsible stretcher, is similar in design to the simple stretcher, but features one or more hinged points of articulation to allow the stretcher to be collapsed into a more compact form for easier handling or storage. Some models may even allow the patient to sit upright in a Fowler's or Semi-Fowler's position.
The scoop stretcher is used for lifting patients, for instance from the ground onto an ambulance stretcher or long board. The two ends of the stretcher can be detached from each other, splitting the stretcher into two longitudinal halves. To load a patient, one or both ends of the stretcher are detached, the halves placed under the patient from either side and fastened back together. With obese patients, the possibility exists of accidentally pinching the patient's back when closing the stretcher, so care must be made not to injure them when carrying out this procedure.
A reeves stretcher, reeves sleeve, SKED, or 'flexible stretcher' is a flexible stretcher that is often supported longitudinally by wooden or plastic planks. It is a kind of tarpaulin with handles. It is primarily used to move a patient through confined spaces (e.g. a narrow hallway), or to lift obese patients (reeves stretchers have 6 handholds, allowing multiple rescuers to assist extrication).
The Stokes basket, also known as litter or rescue basket, is designed to be used where there are obstacles to movement or other hazards: for example, in confined spaces, on slopes, in wooded terrain. Typically it is shaped to accommodate an adult in a face up position and it is used in search and rescue operations. The person is strapped into the basket, making safe evacuation possible. The litter has raised sides and often includes a removable head/torso cover for patient protection. After the person is secured in the litter, the litter may be wheeled, carried by hand, mounted on an ATV, towed behind skis, snowmobile, or horse, lifted or lowered on high angle ropes, or hoisted by helicopter.
The Nimier stretcher (brancard Nimier) was a type of stretcher used by the French army during World War I. The casualty was placed on his back, but in a "seated position", (that is, the thighs were perpendicular to the abdomen). Thus, the stretcher was shorter and could turn in the trenches. This type of stretcher is rarely seen today. (see a picture).
For ambulances, a collapsible wheeled stretcher, or gurney, is a type of stretcher on a variable-height wheeled frame. Normally, an integral lug on the gurney locks into a sprung latch within the ambulance in order to prevent movement during transport. It is usually covered with a disposable sheet and cleaned after each patient in order to prevent the spread of infection. Its key value is to facilitate moving the patient and sheet onto a fixed bed or table on arrival at the emergency room. Both types may have straps to secure the patient.
Standard gurneys have several adjustments. The bed can be raised or lowered to facilitate patient transfer. The head of the gurney can be raised so that the patient is in a sitting position (especially important for those in respiratory distress) or lowered flat in order to perform CPR, or for patients with suspected spinal injury who must be transported on a long spine board. The feet can be raised to what is called the Trendelenburg position, indicated for patients in shock.
A fairly recent innovation is the addition of battery-powered hydraulics to raise and collapse the legs automatically. This eases the workload on EMS personnel, who are statistically at high risk of back injury from repetitive raising and lowering of patients.
Special "bariatric gurneys" are used for obese patients. These are both wider and have a higher weight capacity compared to standard equipment.
Other types of stretchers
Some manufacturers have begun to offer hybrid devices that combine the functionality of a stretcher, a recliner chair, and a treatment or procedural table into one device.
Stretchers have been used since antiquity, on battlefields and in emergency situations, where wheeled vehicles are hindered by rough terrain. In their simplest form, they generally consisted of a canvas sling with long edges sewn to themselves to form pockets through with wooden poles could be slid. This form was common with militaries right through the middle of the 20th century, and in disaster situations, where rapid triage and movement of patients based on severity of injuries is critical, they are still used by emergency response providers.