Assisted and unassisted falls: different events, different outcomes, different implications for quality of hospital care

Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2014 Aug;40(8):358-64. doi: 10.1016/s1553-7250(14)40047-3.


Background: Many hospitals classify inpatient falls as assisted (if a staff member is present to ease the patient's descent or break the fall) or unassisted for quality measurement purposes. Unassisted falls are more likely to result in injury, but there is limited research quantifying this effect or linking the assisted/unassisted classification to processes of care. A study was conducted to link the assisted/unassisted fall classification to both processes and outcomes of care, thereby demonstrating its suitability for use in quality measurement. This was only the second known published study to quantify the increased risk of injury associated with falling unassisted (versus assisted), and the first to estimate the effects of falling unassisted (versus assisted) on the likelihood of specific levels of injury.

Methods: A cross-sectional analysis of falls from all available 2011 data for 6,539 adult medical, surgical, and medical-surgical units in 1,464 general hospitals participating in the National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators" (NDNQI) was performed.

Results: Participating units reported 166,883 falls (3.44 falls per 1,000 patient-days). Excluding repeat falls, 85.5% of falls were unassisted. Assisted and unassisted falls were associated with different processes and outcomes: Fallers for whom a fall prevention protocol was not in place were more likely to fall unassisted than those for whom one was in place (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.39 [95% confidence interval (CI), 1.32, 1.46]), and unassisted falls were more likely to result in injury (aOR, 1.59 [95% CI, 1.52, 1.67]).

Conclusions: The assisted/unassisted fall classification is associated with care processes and patient outcomes, making it suitable for quality measurement. Unassisted falls are more likely than assisted falls to result in injury and should be considered a target for future prevention efforts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control
  • Accidental Falls / statistics & numerical data*
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Safety*
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Risk Factors
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / prevention & control*