Are triage questions sufficient to assign fall risk precautions in the ED?

Am J Emerg Med. 2017 Feb;35(2):329-332. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2016.10.035. Epub 2016 Oct 17.


Objectives: The American College of Emergency Physicians Geriatric Emergency Department (ED) Guidelines and the Center for Disease Control recommend that older adults be assessed for risk of falls. The standard ED assessment is a verbal query of fall risk factors, which may be inadequate. We hypothesized that the addition of a functional balance test endorsed by the Center for Disease Control Stop Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries Falls Prevention Guidelines, the 4-Stage Balance Test (4SBT), would improve the detection of patients at risk for falls.

Methods: Prospective pilot study of a convenience sample of ambulatory adults 65 years and older in the ED. All participants received the standard nursing triage fall risk assessment. After patients were stabilized in their ED room, the 4SBT was administered.

Results: The 58 participants had an average age of 74.1 years (range, 65-94), 40.0% were women, and 98% were community dwelling. Five (8.6%) presented to the ED for a fall-related chief complaint. The nursing triage screen identified 39.7% (n=23) as at risk for falls, whereas the 4SBT identified 43% (n=25). Combining triage questions with the 4SBT identified 60.3% (n=35) as at high risk for falls, as compared with 39.7% (n=23) with triage questions alone (P<.01). Ten (17%) of the patients at high risk by 4SBT and missed by triage questions were inpatients unaware that they were at risk for falls (new diagnoses).

Conclusions: Incorporating a quick functional test of balance into the ED assessment for fall risk is feasible and significantly increases the detection of older adults at risk for falls.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Assessment / standards
  • Sensation Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Triage / methods
  • Triage / standards*
  • United States