New study to investigate patient falls


The National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) has awarded a $100,000 grant for an innovative patient safety research project that will examine the mechanisms underlying patient falls in hospital and formulate recommendations for improved facility design.

Patient falls are among the most serious adverse events reported in US hospitals. An estimated 2 per cent to 10 per cent of hospital stays involve a fall, with 30 per cent of these resulting in serious injury. While research into contributing factors has been fairly extensive, it has largely focused on patient-specific conditions, such as age, use of medications, and the presence of visual or other impairment.

The new study, led by principal investigator Dr Debajyoti Pati of Texas Tech University, will focus on physical design factors, such as layout of rooms and bathrooms, fixtures, fittings and furnishings in the room, and available assistive devices. Specifically, the researchers seek to identify design elements that may contribute to falls when patients attempt to walk from the bed to the bathroom and use the bathroom, and to rank the risks by importance.

“Almost all decisions pertaining to the physical environment of a hospital room are made during the design phase of a healthcare facility,” Dr Pati said. “We intend to focus on factors that designers are able to manipulate that are associated with falls.”

“The NPSF board of directors joins me in congratulating Dr Pati,” said Tejal Gandhi, MD, MPH, president of NPSF. “Patient falls are a serious and long-standing problem in healthcare, and this work promises to provide much-needed insight into environmental contributors and potential prevention strategies.”

The research team will work with international healthcare design firm HKS. The HKS architectural team will design room mock-ups that will incorporate the latest patient care protocol and technology while adhering to current design and construction codes and guidelines.

According to Tom Harvey, FAIA, MPH, FACHA, LEED AP, principal with HKS, until researchers understand which elements of the physical environment have an impact on falls and why, design teams cannot be truly evidence-informed in their designs. “By partnering in this project we hope to engage in meaningful research that advances the industry and builds the much needed evidence base around this critical subject,” he said.

The grant is awarded through the NPSF Research Grants Program, which promotes studies leading to the prevention of human errors, system errors, patient injuries, and their consequences, and which is supported in part by the members of the Foundation’s board of directors.

Dr Pati’s project was selected from 87 submissions reviewed by an independent expert committee. The 11-member committee was chaired by Dr Bruce Lambert, professor of Pharmacy Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

National Patient Safety Foundation, NPSF, patient safety, facility design