Healthcare News & Insights

Patient falls: How to prevent them

A new study in the Journal of Patient Safety says that the number of medical mistakes that lead to a hospital patient’s death is much higher than previously thought. Now, it’s estimated that between 210,000 and 440,000 hospital patients suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death — one of them being falls.

174121136While some states, like Washington, require hospitals to report falls in their facilities to the state department, 39 states don’t.


Maybe it’s because of the thousands and thousands of hospitals stays, falls only occur in a small portion of them.

So why is there a battle among states right now over how hospitals can improve patient safety by decreasing falls?

Never events

One reason could be because a bad fall can turn a short hospital stay into a very long and costly one.

But the main reason is because they are “never events” — something that should never happened in the confines of a hospital. They are, in many ways, 100% preventable.

So what’s the best way to prevent falls in hospitals?

Right now there are two camps when it comes to how to reduce hospital falls. But no matter which camp you are in or choose to follow, the first thing that must be done when patients are admitted is for them to be carefully assessed for their individual risk of falling.

Bed alarms

One of the factors taken into consideration when it comes to risk is whether the patient is on sleeping pills. If they are, they’re at a high risk for falls and need special attention. Reason: There are a number of sleep aids on the market that can cause a patient to sleep walk. These patients need special attention, like having a bed alarm that goes off when a patient tries to get out of bed.

One hospital has their bed alarms play “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” A very recognizable song that let the nurses know exactly what was happening. While the alarms got a lot of complaints from patients, they did work at catching the attention of the nurses over all the other alarms going off.

Nowadays, many hospital beds have alarms built into them so they can’t be removed.

More nurses

While alarms help a lot in reducing falls, if there isn’t a nurse available to respond to the alarm, it doesn’t do much good.

Many nurses’ unions say many preventive accidents in the hospital are due to understaffing. Ask any nurse who works or has worked in a hospital and he or she will have some story about being short-staffed, whether it’s working 12-hour shifts without a break or an accident that happened when the staff was with other patients.

That’s why nursing unions are pushing for state and federal legislation to force hospitals to beef up nursing staffs. Hospitals, however, don’t want government-mandated policies and say they can reduce preventable accidents on their own.

One hospital in the state of Washington did just that. Auburn Medical Center had the highest number of falls. However, after the hospital was bought last year, new owners revamped safety procedures and hired 100 additional staff. In one year its fall rate fell by two-thirds.


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