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Ultrasound system helps detect patient falls

May 2008

Published in the May 2008 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

ON THE LIST of preventable complications that Medicare will no longer pay for beginning in October 2008, inpatient falls occur more than 3.6 times per 1,000 inpatient days. To minimize fall complications, Sonitor Technologies “founded by an MD in 1997 “is now marketing an inpatient fall detection system that relies on ultrasound technology.

The detection system grew out of tag applications that Sonitor launched to help hospitals track equipment, personnel or patients.

“We are in what is known as the real-time location system business,” says Terry Aasen, president and CEO of Sonitor, which is based in Largo, Fla. “We can track at room and bed level so we know in which room or part of a room a person or piece of equipment can be found.”

While Sonitor uses tags to track staff and equipment, the fall detection system relies on patient wristbands. Each disposable wristband contains a “core” that can be removed and recycled. Mr. Aasen says that Sonitor’s products rely on ultrasound, not radio frequency identification (RFID).

That’s important because unlike radio frequency waves, ultrasound waves don’t penetrate walls or ceilings.

“That means we can capture a transmitted signal at room or bed level,” he explains. (Also unlike RFID, ultrasound doesn’t risk interfering with LAN bandwidth or electromagnetic signals, he adds.)

To detect patients who have fallen, wall detectors create horizontal zones close to the floor. “A patient wristband should not remain in those zones for any amount of time or it triggers an alert,” says Mr. Aasen. Alerts can take the form of text messages, e-mails, screen alerts or audiovisual alarms.

Right now, Mr. Aasen points out, hospitals typically rely on visuals by nurses or other patients to monitor falls. While tools like sensor mats can aid detection, he adds, they “can’t discern between a fall and normal behavior, so they lead to false alerts.”

More information on the Sonitor fall detection and tag systems is online at www.sonitor.com.