Bed alarms unproven to prevent patient falls

Bed alarms, by themselves, are an expensive technology without much return, concluded University of Florida researchers studying the effects of hospital beds equipped with alarm systems on patients.

Despite widespread bed alarm use, there's little proven evidence that they actually prevent patient falls or injuries, according to an Annals of Internal Medicine study published yesterday.

Researchers looked at about 28,000 patients at Tennessee's Methodist Healthcare University Hospital with and without bed alarms. They found there was no difference in fall rates or in the number of patients who fell, injurious fall rates or the number of patients physically restrained.

"The idea that hospitals can magically eliminate the problem of falls by investing a lot of money and effort into bed alarms is not well-founded," Ron Shorr, a professor of epidemiology in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and College of Medicine and director of the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said in a statement yesterday.

But that doesn't mean hospitals should do away with bed alarms altogether.

"We're not saying don't ever use bed alarms. We're saying that if you think this intervention in and of itself is going to take care of the problem, then you're sadly mistaken," according to study coauthor Lorraine Mion, the Independence Foundation professor of nursing at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

In fact, some nurses swear by the practice because patients try to move without help. Bed alarms also allow them to avoid using restraints, which can cause additional injury to patients.

Clovis (Calif.) Community Medical Center, for instance, will open a new tower of 144 private rooms next week as part of a $300 million expansion, with more rooms planned for next year, The Fresno Bee reported.

Each room has a "smart" bed, which alerts nurses when patients are out of the bed. "These are the things that are going to make it more efficient for the nurses and safer for the patients," Janet McQuillan, a medical-surgical advance practice nurse, told the newspaper.

Accidental falls contribute to patient complications in 2 percent of hospital stays, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U of Florida researchers noted.

For more information:
- see the U of Florida research announcement
- check out the study abstract
- here's the Fresno Bee article

Related Articles:
Hospital staff coordinates to reduce noise, improve satisfaction
Patient deaths attributed to alarm fatigue, sounding alarm in nation
Patients continually put in danger due to alarm fatigue
'Alarm fatigue' death shines light on national safety issue