Using “virtual sitter” technology, a North Carolina health system has eliminated patient falls and injuries among a cohort of neuroscience patients.
During a three-month pilot study, Mission Health in Asheville, North Carolina, used technology commonly used in Microsoft Xbox consoles to create a system in which hospital caregivers could watch patients through a live video feed and create virtual barriers for patients that presented the highest risk of falling, executives with the health system wrote in NEJM Catalyst.
The technology uses depth sensors to detect movement, while infrared cameras create invisible barriers that trigger an alert. This is a step up for hospitals that have used more rudimentary surveillance cameras to prevent falls.
None of the 98 patients selected for the study sustained a fall, compared to a fall rate of 4.06 per 1,000 patient-days among the rest of the patients on the neuroscience unit, coupled with an injury rate of 2.45. Prior to the pilot, the unit had an overall fall rate of 5.74 per 1,000 patient-days, “despite a multicomponent fall-prevention program, compassionate care staff and strong culture of safety,” the authors wrote.
One aspect of the technology’s design proved particularly beneficial. Through a two-way audio system, virtual sitters could intervene verbally to prevent a patient from getting up from a bed or chair, preventing a potential fall and circumventing the need for nurse intervention.
System executives believe they can save more than $250,000 in fall-related costs by expanding the program and further streamlining communications with the care team. According to the CDC, the average cost of a fall injury is $30,000, and in 2015, Medicare paid $31 billion to treat fall injuries.
Patient falls continue to plague providers at “epidemic” levels. In the past, hospitals have used tools developed by the Joint Commission, increased staffing or focused on teamwork-centric approaches. Recently, there has been a growing interest in fall-detection sensors within the consumer market.
Death or serious injuries resulting from a fall is considered a non-reimbursable “never event” by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). A report released last year found that one in five hospitals don’t have a policy for never events.