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Study focuses on patients' fall risks, inadequacy of bed alarms

When it comes to personal injuries suffered by patients in hospitals and nursing homes in New Jersey and throughout the country, emphasis is commonly placed on preventable medical errors -- things like facility negligence, medication errors, hospital-acquired infections and other mistakes that experts say can and routinely should be prevented.

What many facility administrators and staff members admit to being every bit as concerned about, though, is a problem they say occurs repeatedly and is intractably difficult to prevent.

That is the fall hazard that faces many hospital and nursing home patients every time they simply try to get out of bed.

Slip and fall or simple fall incidents result in medical facilities at an alarming rate, especially for older patients, with in-house injury statistics mirroring those supplied by the CDC that point to accidental falls as being the leading cause of injuries and death among adults aged 65 and older.

"This is one of the most common adverse events," says Dr. Ronald Shorr, the lead author in a recent study in patient falls that focuses specifically on the general inadequacy of bed alarms as a tool to help prevent them.

"If the problem was easily solved," says Shorr, "we would have figured it out a long time ago."

One reason that bed alarms are ineffectual, posits the recent research, owes to "alarm fatigue." In other words, that means that the devices often simply do not work, and staff members ignore them. This in itself raises obvious questions of product liability for alarm manufacturers.

Researchers suggest that doctors and nurses rely less on such aids and focus more on identification of patients at high risk for falls. Those patients need to be situated closest to nurse stations, with staff being fully apprised of their higher fall risk and the heightened risk of falls generally for patients.

If you or a family member has been injured as a result of a fall in a hospital or nursing home, please contact Breslin & Breslin for a free consultation.

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

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