Objectives: To determine the utility of a fall evaluation service to improve the ascertainment of falls in acute care.
Design: Six-month observational study.
Setting: Sixteen adult nursing units (349 beds) in an urban, academically affiliated, community hospital.
Participants: Patients admitted to the study units during the study period.
Intervention: Nursing staff identifying falls were instructed to notify, using a pager, a trained nurse "fall evaluator." Fall evaluators provided 24-hour-per-day 7-day-per-week coverage throughout the study. Data on patient falls gathered by fall evaluators were compared with falls data obtained through the hospital's incident reporting system.
Results: During 51,180 patient-days of observation, 191 falls were identified according to incident reports (3.73 falls/1,000 patient-days), whereas the evaluation service identified 228 falls (4.45 falls/1,000 patient-days). Combining falls reported from both data sources yielded 266 falls (5.20 falls/1,000 patient-days), a 39% relative rate increase compared with incident reports alone (P<.001). For falls with injury, combining data from both sources yielded 79 falls (1.54 injurious falls/1,000 patient-days), compared with 57 falls (1.11 injurious falls/1,000 patient-days) filed in incident reports--a 28% increase (P=.06). In the 16 nursing units, the relative percentage increase of captured fall events using the combined data sources versus the incident reporting system alone ranged from 13% to 125%.
Conclusion: Incident reports significantly underestimate both injurious and noninjurious falls in acute care settings and should not be used as the sole source of data for research or quality improvement initiatives.