By Amber Wilson, Portfolio & Relationship Manager,
Encompass Group, LLC
According to the National Safety Council, more than 42,000 Americans died from falls in 20201. Falls are one of the top three causes - along with motor vehicle accidents and poisoning - of preventable injury-related death in our country2. Despite a person’s age, it’s important to avoid falls that could cause injury, disability, or death, or complicate a current condition or recovery.
Falls are particularly prevalent in healthcare facilities. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that between 700,000 to one million patients fall in our hospitals each year3. While older patients are at the highest risk for falling, it’s important to remember that even pediatric patients can fall when hospitalized. As we mark Falls Prevention Awareness Week from September 20-24, let’s look at the causes of falls, their impact on the hospital, and ways to avert falls in a healthcare setting.
The reasons for falls are as varied as the outcomes
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says falls are the leading cause of death in people aged 65+; in fact, more than 25 percent of folks in that age group fall each year4. Accidental falls happen to people of all ages, though, by missing a step on a staircase, hitting an invisible patch of ice, or tripping over a throw rug or the family dog. Falls are also caused by a variety of medical conditions, from poor vision to the use of certain medicines to vertigo to dementia. Since older people more often suffer from these conditions, they are most vulnerable to falls that lead to hospitalization, disability, or death.
Essentially, everyone who is hospitalized is considered a fall risk until proven otherwise. Although screening for patients who are “at risk for falls” occurs during the admissions process, just being in an unfamiliar environment can contribute to a fall. What else increases a patient's fall risk? Here are just some of the examples:
- IV lines
- Wires attached to their bodies (like heart monitors)
- A hospital bed with power cords and controls
- Unfamiliar equipment in the room (such as IV poles, cords, and monitors)
- Different flooring than they have at home
- Poor lighting, and
- Unexpected side effects, like dizziness, from new medications.
Healthcare facilities can also inadvertently add to the chances of patient falls, by using shower mats, or providing unstable footwear or ill-fitting hospital gowns. Plus, we can’t dismiss the current shortage of healthcare personnel in looking at fall risk. Any deficit of caregivers puts a strain on how care is delivered. As healthcare professionals try their best to care for patients and maintain a safe environment, a lack of appropriate staff or time may hinder their efforts.
Fall prevention is a top priority, but can always be improved
Patient safety is a mantra of the healthcare industry. Hospitals, rehab, and long-term care facilities recognize the implications of falls to their patients (as well as their bottom line), and therefore implement fall risk protocols to reduce inpatient injuries. These protocols usually include color-coded indicators - such as footwear, gowns, and/or door magnets - to identify patients at risk for falls. We’ve seen an increase of yellow being used to express “caution” and red indicating “stop,” emulating the traffic lights we follow each day. They’re helpful signals to all hospital staff, even non-clinical employees, to alert someone immediately if they see a patient wearing these colors and walking unassisted. Setting a bed or chair alarm is another frequently used technique to warn caregivers if a patient is trying to walk without assistance.
Reducing falls saves lives and money
According to the CDC, older adult falls in the US cost $50 billion in medical costs annually, with three-fourths of that paid by Medicare and Medicaid5. Implementing fall risk protocols not only reduces patient injury and death but also decreases the expense of treatment for falls.
What can people do to limit the chances of falling outside the hospital? Declutter homes and offices, wear properly supportive shoes and do exercises to improve
balance and agility. Inside a healthcare facility, patients should wait for assistance if they’re deemed a fall risk (not always easy when we all want to be independent). Hospitals should be sure that all staff is thoroughly trained in fall prevention protocols— and update those protocols as new products and practices become available. The risk of falling should be incorporated into patient discharge plans as well.
Safety is a collaborative mission
As a manufacturer, Encompass tries to put itself in the “shoes” of both patients and healthcare professionals as we continually improve clothing and footwear options to reduce falls. Years ago, patients were given a pair of socks with a grippy bottom to help keep the socks from being slippery. That evolved to socks containing puffy tread on both the top and the bottom. We then developed socks with a slip-resistant pattern on all sides, available in colors indicating the level of fall risk. This total coverage prevents falls in the event the sock twists or turns on the patient’s foot. We also have quick-drying footwear designed for use on wet surfaces. Many of our apparel items are made without snaps or strings, to further prevent patient harm.
To help hospitals and other healthcare facilities more easily identify patients who are at risk for falling, we’ve created a Safe-Steps™ Fall Risk Management Kit. It includes the following:
- CONFETTI TREADS™ Patient Safety Footwear with slip-resistant all-around tread profile available in three vibrant colors.
- SAFE-STEPS™ Blanket for the patient’s bed or lap
- SAFE-STEPS™ Stickers for charts and wallboards
- SAFE-STEPS™ Magnet for doorways and chart update areas, and
- SAFE-STEPS™ Bracelet for transportation to other departments.
By putting all the pieces together, we’re aiming to help hospitals more quickly and easily address the day-to-day challenge of maximizing patient safety.
And we can’t forget the younger patients! Just like adults, kids come in all sizes. In addition to our pediatric gowns, we have designed a “trip-free” pajama pant. It comes in a variety of sizes and is made with a safety cuff at the leg opening…eliminating the need to roll up the pant leg if it’s too long for the patient. We also make footwear specifically designed for children’s smaller feet, including the all-around slip-resistant pattern to reduce fall risk while walking.
The healthcare industry and its suppliers will continue to work together to lower the incidence of falls. With ongoing research, development, and improvements, the day is fast approaching when we’ll be able to keep everyone on their feet wherever they’re receiving care!