JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston is taking pro-active measures to prevent and reduce the number of patient falls at the hospital.
Patient falls are a problem for hospitals across the U.S., including BAMC, which is emphasizing awareness and education in its efforts to stop patient falls and improve patient safety.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, patient falls are the most frequently reported incident in adult inpatient units at hospitals. Hospital patient falls range from 1.3 to 8.9 per 1,000 patient-days or bed-days.
At BAMC, a total of 106 patient falls have been reported so far this year in the hospital’s inpatient units, an increase of 10 from 2016.
Col. Deborah Jones, BAMC Medical Nursing Services chief, said the hospital is working with physicians, medical personnel, patients and their family members to prevent patient falls.
“Patient falls are a national problem,” Jones said. “We are making every effort to mitigate it. We may not prevent every fall, but we are making every effort to prevent it. Patient safety is everyone’s responsibility.”
Jones said a patient fall occurs anytime a part of the patient’s body, other than their feet, touches the floor while the patient is by themselves or being assisted by someone.
There are several causes for patient falls, including changes in a patient’s medication, the patient’s mental status, their age and trying to get out of their bed unassisted. Patients in any of these situations may find themselves unsteady on their feet, increasing their risk of falling.
Jones said BAMC has several safeguards and policies in place to prevent patient falls. First, an alarm on the bed alerts hospital staff if a patient attempts to get out of the bed unassisted, and second, yellow socks with non-skid bottoms and yellow arm bands worn by patients help identify them as a high fall risk to staff.
In addition, hospital staff are instructed to be aware if a patient is a fall risk and needs assistance and while making their rounds, checking to see if everything has been set up in the patient’s room to keep them safe and prevent falls.
Jones said the patient’s family members are reminded not to move a patient by themselves and to get assistance from medical personnel if the patient needs to be moved.
If a family member sees that a patient has fallen, they should immediately get help from a nurse. Family members or visitors should not move a patient who has fallen because the patient could injure themselves during the fall. Any effort to move the patient could cause further injury to the patient.
BAMC medical staff educate patients and their family members on the physical and emotional well-being of a patient after a fall.
Patient falls result in additional costs for hospitals, an average of $14,000 per patient fall and increases the length of a patient’s stay at the hospital, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality report.
Jones said while many patients aren’t injured in falls, a physician still needs to asses a patient to see if they are injured using equipment such as X-rays or a scan or treat the patient if they are injured, adding to the value of medical care and costs at the hospital.
Col. Michael Ludwig, BAMC deputy commander for Inpatient Services, said hospital staff have a checklist of things to do when they check on their patients to make sure the proper safeguards are in place to prevent a fall.
“We mandate that our staff is always moving around and have their eyes on the patients,” Ludwig said. “We are checking to see if the patients are okay and if they need anything.”
Ludwig said hospital staff, from doctors to housekeepers, are encouraged to speak up if they observe something is wrong with the patient and their surroundings.
“If you see something, say something,” he said.
Ludwig said hospital staff are transparent with patients and family members with the procedures and safeguards BAMC uses to prevent falls and the protocol that is used if a fall should occur.
Sometime in the future, BAMC will launch a public awareness campaign to prevent patient falls. The message of the campaign - “Why Not Zero Falls?” - will include messages to the public on how to prevent patient falls and the procedures the hospital has in place if a fall should occur.
Ludwig said the “Why Not Zero Falls?” campaign will include social media, articles, posters and static displays and video screens at BAMC.
“The purpose of the campaign is to have no patient falls in the hospital, that is our goal,” Ludwig said. “That is a lofty goal. There is no reason why we can’t do that.”