Safety matters in hospitals. Attorneys, patient care advocates, and others often harp on the current gaps in overall patient care quality. That is because there are still so many lives to be saved and injuries to be prevented by adherance to high quality safety protocols all of the time. Much of that advocacy is focused on actual malpractice–violations of professional standards of care that cause harm to unsupecting patients.
However, there are actually other dangers in medical facilities that are not exactly related to malpractice. Instead of violations of professional standards of care, even basic acts of negligene might occur in a hosptial that causes harm. For example, hosptials and staff members must be diligent and aware of the dangers posed by certain pieces of basic equipment, like bed rails. Far from being a safety device themselves, advocates have vociferously argued that these rails actually present serious risks of harm for those using them.
This point was discussed helpfully in the latest newsletter published by Biomedical Safety & Standards. The article noted how many consumer watchdog organizations have been making serious calls for bed rail reforms to entities like the Federal Trade Commission. The basic argument is that these bed rails pose serious safety risks, requiring changes in marketing practices, consumer warnings, and perhaps even recalls. According to the report, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has noted at least 525 deaths caused by bed rails. That is on top of the 125 documented cases from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. These tallys should not be taken as definitive analyses of all incidents, as many sitautions are often not reported.
Experts note that the main problem with the rails invovles entrapment. The devices are generally only used with medical patients (often seniors) who might have mobility problems or other functioning issue. That means that if the individual rolls over and gets trapped between the bed rail and the bed, they are at a real risk of not being able to free themselves. Sometimes suffocations or asphyxiation results. Far from being innocuous devices that prevent falls from a bed, bed rails should be viewed as possible dangers with close supervision and oversight necessary to prevent them from hurting or even killing vulnerable patients.
Considering the harm that these products cause, should they even be used at all? Many patients rights advocates and consumer watchdogs argue that they should not. However, at the very least, these groups are calling for changes such that the companies who make and sell the bedrails be honest about the dangers that they pose. Right now, as reported in the article, some marketing claims are made like, “makes all bed safer.” But the companies are not required to have any proof to back up their claims about these safety advantages. As a result, many might unknowingly assume that these products actually do provide an added layer of safety without coming with significant risks.
At the end of the day, it is important for families of medical patients or nursing home residents where these rails are used to be fully aware of the dangers. Caregivers at these locations, including nursing home staff members and nurses in hosptials must be cognizant of bed rails dangers and act appropriately at all times to keep those using the beds safe from harm. There is no excuse for a product that claims to be a safety feature to actually result in severe injury or even death.
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