June is National Safety Month – How Safe Are You?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 5:12 | Filled in Personal Responsibility

Today, I have asked a colleague of mine to submit a guest post. Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, is a health writer who started her professional life as a registered nurse. She is passionate about helping people learn about medical and health issues in a way that anyone can understand.

Marijke writes for many print and online outlets and works with organizations such as Sepsis Alliance (SepsisAlliance.org), a not-for-profit patient advocacy group. Her blog, Marijke: Nurse Turned Writer (http://medhealthwriter.blogspot.com) is where she mixes fun and serious health issues.

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June is National Safety Month – How Safe Are You?

Health care: two words that can get the most passive of people riled up. Health care is very political and personal. We have our beliefs on how it should be delivered and while we may differ and be on opposite ends of the spectrum, most of us agree that we do need to have access to healthcare professionals when we’re sick or injured. But what about preventing that need in the first place? June is National Safety Month in the United States and healthcare professionals use this time to try to raise awareness of the preventable injuries and deaths that occur each year.

According to the National Safety Council, “Unintentional deaths reached an estimated 128,200 in 2009. The 2009 estimate – the highest on record – is 47 percent greater than the 1992 total of 86,777 – the lowest annual total since 1924. The cost of unintentional injuries to Americans and their employers exceeds $693 billion nationally, or $5,900 per household.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that falls are the second leading cause of accidental death. While not all falls are preventable, so many are. A fall that may have just been painful and annoying when we were younger, can lead to disability or even death as we age (Broken hips in the elderly can lead to death).

Falls within the healthcare system

Falls don’t just occur at home or in the community – they also happen in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and long-term care facilities. A study in 2010 determined that every year, approximately one million patients fall within healthcare facilities in the United States.

Are these falls preventable? Not all could be prevented but many can be avoided by taking some simple measures. Even visitors can help keep patients safer by being aware of these fall prevention techniques:

Keep necessary items within reach. Telephones, tissues, call bells, anything that may be needed should be easily reached on the bedside or overbed table.

All wheels on moveable furniture should be locked. People often use overbed tables or wheelchairs for stability. This is not safe.

Wheelchair brakes should be on at all times when not in movement. Getting in and out of a wheelchair can be dangerous. Always ensure the brakes are on when the chair isn’t being moved to prevent these types of falls.

All obstacles should be removed from the room. Extra equipment, such as IV poles not in use, should be removed as soon as possible to reduce clutter. Furniture moved to the walls to prevent bumps.

All spills must be wiped up immediately to prevent slips.

Lighting must be adequate at night.

Footwear must be stable and with slip guards. Sandals and flip-flop type slippers are not safe.

Beds should be lowered as much as possible. The high beds that are necessary for healthcare professionals to provide safe care must be lowered when they are not in use. Patients should be as low to the ground as is possible.

No restraints when possible. This can be controversial, but restraints, ways to tie or keep patients in bed can actually increase the risk of falls. Patients who try to climb over side rails or the end of the bed will fall harder than if they were just trying to get out of bed normally. Patients who are tied down with restraints can (and often do) become more agitated and can cause injury to themselves.

Patients should be walked or helped out of bed regularly. Patients who are given the opportunity to exercise may be less agitated and not try as hard to get out of bed when alone.

Patients shouldn’t be left in chairs for too long. Staff or visitors may help patients get out of bed to sit in a chair, but if they sit for too long, the patients may try to get back into bed themselves.

 

These are just a few fall-prevention techniques and while they may seem simple enough, they don’t happen often enough.

Being an empowered healthcare consumer not only means knowing how to take care of yourself and to obtain proper health care, it also means taking action to prevent injuries for both you and the people you care about. Be proactive and stay safe.

 

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