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File Dividers for Medical Worker with Use of One Hand

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A woman working in the medical records department of a hospital lost most use of her left hand, no rotation at the elbow, etc. She routinely has to pull out and re-file large files 1 to 2 inches thick. She also needs to relocate sections of files to another shelf to make room for new ones. She struggled with the floppiness of the files: she could no longer hold them in place with one hand while lifting or pulling with the other, resulting in significant pain, fatigue, and frustration, plus concern over keeping her job.


File Divider
File Divider
File Divider in use
File Divider in use

We determined that file dividers of some sort would help, but existing ones with tabs that fit into slots in steel shelving was too difficult and time consuming to insert. Standard book ends were also not easy enough to insert between tightly-packed files. If it was not quick and easy, she would tend not to use them, despite the pain, due to time pressures.

After several iterations, arrived at a "simple" spring loaded divider comprised of a U-shaped aluminum channel telescoping inside of a square aluminum tube. Spring tension is provided by internally attaching a length of 3/32 in. bungee cord, which helps eliminate the problem of over-stretching the two sections. A custom-shaped hook is attached to the exposed end of the inner piece which is shaped to catch on the top of the shelf back (the shelf back is open above 8 in., not solid). A second hook is riveted to the outer square tubing and designed to grab the outer lip of the shelf base, creating a diagonal brace between the top of the back and the front of the bottom of the L-shaped shelf. An additional flat piece extends upwards in the plane of the divider to help keep the files from flopping over. The hook portions are made from 1/4 in. Kydex to facilitate bending to shape with a heat gun. Pressure against the side of the divider tends to cock it and help keep it from sliding laterally. Ultimately, four of these were fabricated for use in multiple locations.

Cost Analysis

Materials per unit: $5

Labor: First unit, 10 hrs., + two trips to site. Other units, 1.5 hrs. ea.

Repeatability of Solution

Ultimate design promotes replication. As co-workers were interested in this device, I expect that there is a definite market for a device like this among those working with medical records and similar large filing environments; to the extent that shelving systems with open backs are commonly used.


Ray Grott, MA, ATP

Rehabilitation Engineering & Technology Project

San Francisco State University