are hospitals doing enough to protect patients from falls

When a loved one enters the hospital, it’s only natural to feel some apprehension and the need to take certain safety precautions. After all, a basic internet search will likely uncover many startling stories of hospital negligence ranging from deadly infections and prescription errors to failures to diagnose and other appalling medical mistakes.

As it turns out, there is another lesser known — yet equally dangerous — form of hospital negligence of which both patients and their loved ones should be aware: falls.

Consider the following statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Emergency departments across the U.S. treat as many as two million people a year for hospital fall-related injuries
  • Hospital fall-related injuries cost roughly $30 billion a year
  • Hospital falls are among the leading causes of death/injury for people older than 65
  • Hospital falls result in serious injuries roughly 25 percent of the time

In most situations, hospital fall-related injuries can be traced to the fact that a patient is physically weak and/or woozy from drugs, and attempts to get out of bed when they are not supposed to.

Still, whether the patient misjudges their strength or simply forgot the instructions to stay in bed, it’s up to medical staff to ensure that these falls don’t happen.

Given the risk, you would think hospitals would employ some sort of device that would warn physicians and nurses if a patient is at risk of falling. Well, the good news is that such devices do exist. Unfortunately, there’s also bad news: a recently released study found that hospital staff may actually be ignoring these devices.

Researchers conducted a review of 28,000 patients who stayed in 349 beds during the course of an 18-month period at a well-respected hospital. Here, they found that staff routinely ignored the alerts issued by hospital beds outfitted with pressure-sensing alarms.

Why would hospital staff just ignore a bed alarm?

The problem, researchers say, is so-called “alarm fatigue,” meaning that hospital staff across the country hear so many alerts during the course of their shifts — and so many false alarms — that they simply discount them.

Interestingly, the researchers indicate that the answer to preventing patient falls will likely entail more than just a quick fix, but rather the enactment of multiple measures such as increased monitoring of at-risk patients, signage/names tags indentifying at-risk patients, and better bed alarms that emit a louder, more distinctive and more urgent sound.

It’s somewhat unreal to think that hospital staff would fail to respond to a bed alarm. The simple and undeniable truth is that it doesn’t matter how many false alarms hospital staff may hear in a given shift, it is their duty to make sure all patients are healthy and safe.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious personal injuries such as a broken bone or concussion or other head or brain injury in a hospital fall or other incident caused by the negligence of hospital staff, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional.

Source: USA Today, “Study finds hospital bed alarms don’t deliver results,” Frank Gluck, Dec. 5, 2012

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