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Posted 17 Jun 2013 in Falls

Health care workers at Tairawhiti District Health Board (DHB) have found novel ways to raise awareness of falls among staff, patients and visitors.

Preventing falls has been a priority at Tairawhiti for several years, but nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists put extra effort into falls awareness during the April Falls promotion.

To launch the promotion, the DHB held an awareness day at Gisborne Hospital involving visual displays and fun exercises.

Occupational therapists ran a timed competition to illustrate the difficulties of judging distance with impaired sight. Participants sat on a chair and put on a pair of glasses with smudged lenses, and then tried to pick up objects from the floor and put them on a table using a long handle reach. 

Physiotherapists held strength and balance exercises in the main hospital corridor. Staff, visitors and patients were offered the chance to test their coordination while using a variety of strength and balance utensils, including a wobble board, and while balancing on one foot with their eyes open and then with their eyes closed.

Nurses displayed presentation boards on risk assessment and care planning. It is the hospital’s policy that every elderly patient has a risk assessment for falls. Where appropriate, the hospital implements an individualised care plan to reduce the risk.

Director of Nursing Sonia Gamblen says the exercises were held in a main hospital corridor at morning tea time. “It was all good fun, and the corridor was packed,” she said.

“We found it a very good way of raising awareness and engagement in preventing falls. Nobody wants a patient to have a fall while receiving health care. Ultimately, our aim is to improve health outcomes for patients.”

She said the DHB planned to run a similar event in aged residential care homes, focusing on the importance of vitamin D supplements in aged residential care. It was also considering organising events at farmers’ markets to raise awareness of home safety checks and falls prevention in the wider community.  

After reviewing its falls policy in 2009, Tairawhiti DHB began preparing individual care plans for patients at a higher risk of falling. It introduced a system of putting red stickers on the notes of higher-risk patients, so that when patients were moving between departments staff who hadn’t cared for them previously would be aware of their falls risk. Red stickers for higher-risk patients were also put on ‘patient status at a glance’ boards in the charge nurse manager’s office.

Falls is the first focus of Open for better care, the national patient safety campaign coordinated nationally by the Health Quality & Safety Commission and implemented locally by DHBs. Tairawhiti is working with the Commission on falls risk assessment, looking particularly at the ask, assess and act component of assessment – one of the campaign’s 10 topics on preventing falls and reducing harm from falls.

For more information on the 10 topics is available on the Commission's website under the Reducing Harm from Falls programme

Sonia Gamblen says raising awareness and training staff is essential to preventing falls. “Simple things like decluttering the environment and keeping pathways to the toilet clear can make a big difference,” she says.

“Involving patients and their families more closely in care planning is another area we’ll be looking at. Patients and families/whānau have so much information that can be used to help keep patients staff while they’re in hospital. The average length of stay is only three days, so getting the level of detail that patients and their families can provide is all the more important.”