Mass. Hospitals Share Data on Patient Injuries from Falls

By | October 16, 2007

They can be some of the most common — and most easily preventable — injuries suffered during a recovery and now the state’s hospitals say they are making progress in helping prevent falls among their patients.

The Massachusetts Hospital Association released information on the Internet this week that they say will let patients and their families see how their local hospital compares with other hospitals.

The web site will also let hospitals share information on the best ways to prevent falls.

“Falls are common, very measurable, and in most aspects can be prevented,” said Karen Nelson, a registered nurse and senior vice president for clinical affairs for the association. “We thought it was important that patients and their families to have this information.”

The rate of falls vary considerably depending on the type of medical condition and the treatment that a patient is undergoing.

Patients in intensive care units, who are typically confined to a bed or may not even be conscious, usually have very low incidences of falls.

Patients in rehabilitation hospitals, on the other hand, can experience more falls _ in part because they are being encouraged to get up and move around.

There are lots of different factors that go into determining the risks of falls that individual patients face — everything from age and problems with vision or balance to the type of medication they are using and how frequently the patient may need to get out of bed to use a bathroom, Nelson said.

Nelson said the information — which includes all falls and falls that result in some kind of injury — has not been available publicly before and was being released voluntarily by the hospitals for the first time.

According to the new data, for example, the rate of falls among patients being treated largely with medicine at Berkshire Medical Center is about equal to that of other similar hospitals, while the rate of falls among patients also undergoing some surgery at the hospital is about half the statewide rate.

The association describes the web site as a first in the nation attempt to voluntarily provide patients with critical information on a hospital-by-hospital basis. The web site will be update every three months.

Not everyone is impressed with the web site.

David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said it’s always better to have an outside agency reviewing and reporting data.

“We don’t support any voluntary reporting by the industry itself of its own performance. We don’t trust it,” Schildmeier said. “We just see this whole web site as a PR gimmick to prevent having to create a safe standard of care.”

The union, which represents about 70 percent of the state’s nurses, has been locked in a years-long battle with the hospitals over the creation of nurse-to-patient ratios.

The unions supports the ratios, what they call “safe staffing levels,” saying they would guarantee enough nurses for patients. The hospitals have opposed the ratios, saying hospital administrators — and not lawmakers on Beacon Hill — are best suited to determine appropriate staffing levels.

A nurse staffing bill backed by the nurses association won approval in the House last year but failed to come up in the Senate. It’s been refiled again this year. A hearing is set for Oct. 24.

Schildmeier said increasing the number of nurse is key to preventing other sorts of injuries in hospitals including infections and medical errors.

The hospital association web site also includes information on nurse staffing levels at hospitals.

The web site already has comparative information on heart failure care, pneumonia care and surgical infection care. By the end of the year the hospitals hope to add another common but easily preventable injury to the list — bedsores.

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On the Net:

Massachusetts Hospital Association’s Patients First web site: www.patientsfirstma.org

Massachusetts Nurses Association: http://www.massnurses.org/

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