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Blog Post

The rising danger of patient falls

May 17, 2015

    Dan Diamond, Executive Editor

    U2 guitarist The Edge had a senior moment on Friday: He fell down.

    The legendary guitarist—who's 53 years old, practically geriatric for a rock star—tumbled off the side of a stage as U2 kicked off its latest tour.

    Luckily, The Edge wasn't really hurt. (Although his pride may have suffered.)

    But the aging rocker's pratfall happened at an ironic moment: CDC data released this month has researchers newly concerned about falls rising among America's seniors.

    And this part of my post is no joke; the new data is deadly serious.

    Falls can be a killer

    CDC's new report found that among Medicare-age patients:

    • The age-adjusted death rate from falls doubled between 2000 and 2013; and
    • Between 2012-2013, about 55% of all unintentional injury deaths were because of falls.

    You can see the rising death rate because of falls charted out below, even as other intentional injuries held steady or fell.

    There's no clear reason for the uptick in falls, but one likely driver is our success in other life-preserving interventions.

    As Americans are living longer—and other "never events" are being reduced—seniors are more susceptible to the danger of simple falls.

    I also was struck by some research being passed around on Twitter from this weekend's American Geriatrics Society meeting: A reminder that certain drugs that are commonly prescribed to elderly patients, like antipsychotics, raise their fall risk.

    So what can hospitals do about it?

    "It's a myth to think you can get to zero falls, but you can reach for zero injuries," patient safety expert Patricia Quigley told the Nursing Executive Center last year. 

    She pointed out that there are about three to five falls per 1,000 patient days, and as many as half of patient falls in hospitals result in injury.

    "If you accept the assumption that all patients are 'at risk' for falls, just as all patients are 'at risk' for hospital-acquired infections," Quigley said, "then your approach to fall prevention will be transformed."

    Get best practices for preventing patient falls 

    Quigley also explains the importance of developing a fall-prevention team for the hospital, and she reviews the value of adding floor mats and designing "injury-free" environments. I think Quigley's full interview and list of strategies is fascinating, although you need to be a member of the Nursing Executive Center to read the whole conversation. 

    Meanwhile, here are several Daily Briefing stories that offer key tactics for fall prevention, and are available for everyone to read:

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