Healthcare News & Insights

Bed alarms may not be best at reducing incidents of patient falls

Hospitals rely on many tools to prevent patient falls, but are all of them effective? A new study focusing on bed alarms finds that, on their own, they may not work as well as once thought.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, evaluated the use of bed alarms designed to alert nurses of patient movement to see if they actually decreased the likelihood of falls.

A research team from the University of Florida tracked the instances of falls in 16 nursing stations in a Tennessee hospital over an 18-month period. Each station was randomly assigned to use bed alarms for its patients.

After examining the results, researchers found no difference in fall rates between the stations with bed alarms and the stations that didn’t use them.

The results indicate that relying on bed alarms alone isn’t the best approach when trying to avoid patient falls. Instead, for the best results, hospitals should use them in conjunction with other techniques as part of a comprehensive fall prevention program.

Preventing patient falls and injuries

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has published a hospital falls prevention report outlining what hospitals can do to avoid patient falls. Here’s a four-step prevention plan your hospital can follow to reduce falls and fall injuries:

  1. Assess the patient’s risk of falling and being injured. Older patients with osteoporosis or a bone-thinning disorder are at the highest risk of injury from falling, but don’t discount younger patients either. Patients with bleeding disorders or those taking anticoagulants are also at risk for fall injury, as are post-surgery patients, especially those who have had abdominal and thoracic surgery.
  2. Communicate with and educate both staff and patients about fall risk. Make sure everyone is aware of proper safety practices to minimize fall injury. If the patient is high-risk, emphasize the need for extra precautions to be taken.
  3. Have a standard set of strategies in place to help patients avoid falls. Identify general physical hazards that may contribute to fall risk, including items that may cause patients to trip, and remove them from hospitals and hallways.
  4. Create customized interventions for patients with the highest fall risk. For high-risk patients, it’s essential to take several steps to decrease the likelihood of falling. Have staff carefully review their medications to ensure they aren’t taking anything that makes them more prone to falling, such as sleeping pills. In addition, having nurses and doctors increase the frequency of their “comfort rounds” to monitor these patients is helpful, as it makes them less prone to ending up in a situation where they could fall.

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