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Falls are a real risk for many hospital patients

When it comes to medical malpractice, the stranger and more bizarre the facts, the more likely the story is to receive widespread news coverage. Scary, albeit microscopic bugs, are great, as they sound like something from a 1950s Sci-Fi movie. Flesh eating and antibiotic resistant bacteria play well, as do surgeons leaving utensils inside patients or amputating the wrong limb.

And these are all real problems in many hospitals in Hawaii and elsewhere and many patients are injured or made sicker by these examples of medical malpractice. But many of those incidents happen infrequently and may only harm a small number of patients during a year. It may be the more common, but far less flashy, problems that actually injure more patients.

Take, for example, falls. A NPR story describes how one man who had recently recovered from cancer. He developed some back pain and went to the hospital. He stayed overnight, but could not sleep, so they provide a sleeping pill.

He fell asleep, but began sleepwalking. As he attempted to get out of bed, he fell and broke three ribs. This forced him to spend another two weeks in the hospital and then more time in nursing home.

Hospitals attempt to deal with falls through such means as bed alarms. The problem with alarms is they can only be effective if there is a nurse or other staff immediately available to rush to the bed where the patient has triggered the alarm.

Nurses argue they need more staff to protect patients, while hospitals are always looking to cut corners and use fewer staff. While both have a vested interest, who would you trust when it comes to fall protection?

Source: NPR.com, "To Reduce Patient Falls, Hospitals Try Alarms, More Nurses," John Ryan, October 16, 2013 

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