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October 21, 2013

Tactics to reduce patient falls: Add alerts, more nurses

Daily Briefing

Writing last week in NPR's "Shots" blog, John Ryan examined tactics employed by Washington state hospitals to reduce the risks of falls with injury for hospitalized patients.

At least 92 patients in Washington—which is one of just 11 states that requires hospitals to report patient falls—were injured or killed by falls last year. While the number represents only a small fraction of patients, safety experts refer to bad falls as "never events," meaning they should never occur within the confines of hospital walls.

As such, hospitals across the state—including Seattle-based Swedish Medical Center—are experimenting with new strategies to reduce the risk of patient falls. "Zero falls is certainly our goal," says chief nursing officer June Altaras. She says the hospital carefully assesses each patient's risk factors for falling, such as whether they're taking sleeping pills.

Strategy #1: Bed alarms

Swedish patients deemed "high-risk" are provided a bed alarm to the tune of the children's song "Mary Had a Little Lamb" that goes off when the patient gets up. "We wanted something very distinctive so you knew exactly what was going on, and get you there very quickly," says Altaras. "We get complaints almost every day, patients begging the nurses to turn it off," but the alarm is effective, she adds.

  • Tips to reduce patient falls: See "Safeguarding Against Nursing Never Events," one of the Nursing Executive Center's most popular studies, for tactics to target key trouble spots.
  • And join us today, October 22, at 1 p.m. for a webconference hosted by safety expert Patricia Quigley on the latest strategies for reducing the risk of falls with injury for hospitalized patients. Register for the webconference.

Strategy #2: More staff

Although nurses say alarms are helpful, they note that there is no substitute for good nursing. "You still need a person to be close enough nearby to be able to respond to the alarm," says Bernedette Haskins, a nurse at Swedish. Falls, like many other medical mishaps, share a root cause: understaffing, she says.

Ryan notes that the Washington hospital with the most falls in recent years is Auburn Medical Center, which hired 100 new staff and overhauled its safety procedures after it was acquired by new owners last year. Auburn officials say the changes helped the hospital cut its fall rate by two-thirds in less than a year (Ryan, "Shots," NPR, 10/16).

More from today's Daily Briefing
  1. Current ArticleTactics to reduce patient falls: Add alerts, more nurses

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