Hospitals Taking Steps to Avoid Patient Falls

For weak and elderly hospital patients, a fall while in the hospital can extend a hospital stay or, in some cases, cost a patient his life. Hospitals nationwide are responding to this glaring safety concern with a blended approach between technology and human care.

To reduce the number of falls, deemed “never events” (as in, they should never happen in the hospital), many hospitals are relying on high-pitched bed alarms to alert nursing staff when a patient is up from their bed. The alarms use weight-sensitive pads in a bed or chair that emit a noticeable alert when they detect a decrease in pressure.

A study led by Ron Shorr at the University of Florida late last year, however, demonstrates that reliance on bed alarms is simply not enough to reduce the number of falls in a hospital. In a blind comparison of 16 hospital units in which eight units used bed alarms and eight units relied on standard care, there was more than one fall fewer per 1,000 patients in the units relying on standard care procedures. The results are not significant enough to blame bed alarms for more falls, but do call into question the contention that they result in fewer falls.

Nurses cite understaffing as a larger concern that results in other hospital risks. They argue that there is no replacement for capable nurse care. After all, an alarm is only effective if there is a nurse to respond, and hospitals that have increased their staff and provided comprehensive safety training have drastically reduced the number of falls they experience without the added technology.

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