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Falling Out of Bed at a Hospital - Risk of Death

Chris Russo May 29, 2012

Falling out of bed at a hospital is not usually the type of medical malpractice case that makes the headlines.  Those "high profile" cases usually seem to be when a wrong body part is removed or when a surgical tool is left inside the body and shows up on an x-ray film.  Despite its lack of drama, falling out of bed at a hospital is the leading cause of injuries to patients and may be the result of medical malpractice.  Many people who fall out of bed hit their heads.  While many falls result in bruises or broken bones, a fall from a hospital bed can also easily result in a traumatic brain injury or death.  Bleeding in the brain is a common result.  The elderly are particularly susceptible to falling out of bed as well as people who are not fully aware of their surroundings.  If these injuries happened at home, we might blame the person for not being more careful.  However, in the hospital setting, the people who are falling out of bed are there because they are not able to take care of themselves and it becomes the hospital's responsibility to protect their patient within reason.  This means ensuring that the bedrails are up and not left down when the nurse leaves the room.  At a hospital, it is standard procedure for the nurses to evaluate each patient for a risk of falling out of bed and to react accordingly with the right protocol.  Some hospitals have implemented systems or procedures that are designed to prevent falling out of bed.  These steps include identifiying the rooms of patients who are considered a fall risk with a large yellow star.  These patients are often seen by nurses on rounds every half-hour instead of a every hour.  High risk patients may also be given yelow blankets and yellow socks to further identify them.  Additionally, there are bed alarms that can be implemented to alert the nursing staff that a high risk patient has or is attempting to get out of bed without assistance.  These procedures are effective with patients of any age.  Surgery, blood losses, and pain medications can make people weak, lethargic, or leave them in a less than fully aware mental state where their judgment is not what it would normally be.  Other procedures implemented are policies of no diuretics before bedtime.  As a diruretic will make a person want to go to the bathroom, withholding such medications (if possible) immediately before bedtime with reduce the risk that the patient will want to get up and use the bathroom by themselves in the middle of the night when there is only minimal staff available.  Falling in the middle of the night on a bathroom trip is a classic theme for a hospital falldown injury.  Finally, other measures such as lowering the height of the beds and cushioning the floor with mats around a bed can help reduce the incidence of falling as well as the severity of injury when a fall does occur.  Aside from medical malpractice lawsuits, more and more financial pressure in being placed on hospitals to prevent in-hospital falls.  Since 2008, Medicare is no longer reimbursing hospitals for extended stays and treatments related to preventable falls.  While not all falls in the hospital are preventable, the ones that could have and should have been prevented should have a medical malpractice lawyer examine the facts and circumstances.

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