By Virginia Buchanan

December 6th, 2012  12:00pm

A recent study by the University of Florida suggests that a primary tool used by hospitals to prevent in-patient falls from hospital beds is inadequate.  In an analysis of approximately 28000 patients, using 349 beds, during a year and a half time frame, the study found that bed alarms were not effective at reducing falls.

“False alarms” are part of the problem.  When they sound off improperly, “alarm fatigue” occurs, according to Dr. Ronald Shorr, the principal investigator and professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida.

Falls occur in the hospital setting due to effects of medication, lightheadedness or dizziness from getting up, weakness from illness, post-operative limitations or preexisting mental or physical conditions.  They are all too common and costly both inside and outside the hospital setting.   It is estimated that an in-patient fall adds  $4,000 to the patient’s medical costs.   About 1 in 4 patients who fall in the hospital sustain injuries in the fall.

Identifying at risk patients and placing them closer to the nurse’s station, close monitoring and use of in-mattress alarms that make a loud and shrill sound, may be more effective than the traditional alarms.  Given the human and financial cost, more effective alternatives should be considered.

Virginia Buchanan is a shareholder at Levin, Papantonio.  She has served on the Board of Directions of the Florida Bar Foundation and has been Treasurer of ABOTA, Chairperson of the Civil Process Server Grievance Committeee and has been a member of the Chief Judge’s Council on Children. She currently is a member of the Women’s Caucus of the Florida Justice Association.

More information on medical negligence is available here.