Preventing patient falls more valuable than bed alarms

Patient falls, one of the most common adverse events in hospitals, don't have a silver bullet fix, according to a recent Annals of Internal Medicine study.

"There's no magic recipe to make these things go away," study investigator Ronald Shorr, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, told The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press. "There's not a technological fix."

Despite widespread use in the past decade, bed alarms alone don't reduce patient falls. Study authors attributed the lack of response to "alarm fatigue."

"How many times a week do you hear a car alarm go off?" Shore told The New York Times. "You become desensitized."

In response to the growing problem of alarm fatigue, Shands at the University of Florida last year instituted a response policy in hospital corridors.

"If you see something flashing or hear an alarm, don't pass it by," Eric Rosenberg, the chief of internal medicine at Shands at the University of Florida and physician director of quality, told the Star-Banner. "Oftentimes, it's our clerks who catch it if the nurse is busy."

Costing about $400 each, bed alarms may provide little return on investment, at least by themselves. Study authors pointed out, however, bed alarms can be included in a comprehensive patient fall prevention program.

For example, Florida's Lee Memorial Health System ranks all its patients according to their fall risks. The most at-risk patients have signs outside of their rooms and are placed closest to nursing stations, the Star-Banner reported. They also receive yellow tabs that identify them as fall risks. In addition, the hospital encourages patients to walk with assistance from staff or family members.

Up to 2 percent of patients fall during their hospital stay every year, according to the Star-Banner. A quarter of them result in injuries, and 2 percent result in complications, according to News-Press. Inpatient falls cost an average of $4,000 in additional expenses.

For more information:
- here's the Annals of Internal Medicine study
- read the (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press article
- see the NYT article
- here's the Star-Banner article

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