The SAFE (System to Avoid Falls Events) technology is being tested at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary on one ward which caters for particularly frail and elderly patients.
“SAFE will enable us to prevent falls and it won’t disturb people”
Developed by Lancaster-based firm Rinicare, the early warning system uses thermal sensors to detect patient’s movements and then alerts staff to those at risk of falling out of bed.
Nurses hope the technology will not only improve safety but also reduce disruption and disturbance to patients and cut the number of false alarms.
The trial is taking place on Ward 20 where nursing staff have to date relied on pressure sensitive mats with alarms to alert them to potential falls.
However, the alarms are noisy and can go off if someone is simply moving or sitting up in bed.
Under the SAFE system, sensors analyse the thermal outline of a person – known as a “heat blob” – in relation to the edges of the bed and relay that information to the screen at the nurses’ desk.
Each bed appears as a coloured icon, which flashes and makes a sound if a patient starts moving towards the edge of the bed or attempts to get out of bed.
The system checks the position of patients once every second and alerts are also sent to mobile devices used by nurses as they move around the ward.
When a patient is in bed and not moving the icon will be green but will turn to amber if a patient starts moving towards the side of the bed. If they leave the bed the alert will turn red.
The system keeps a log of any incidents, helping ward staff identify those most at risk and prioritise cases.
According to developers, it can also interpret anomalies such as when children are visiting or staff are working at the bedside.
Six SAFE devices in all will be trialled on Ward 20 as part of a year-long study hosted by the trust’s research and development team, which will run until April 2020.
Ward manager Laura Wong, who is overseeing the trial, said she hoped to see benefits for both patients and staff.
“The mats we are currently using all have the same alarm sound and they go off all of the time; there are just too many alarms and they disturb our patients,” she said.
“SAFE will enable us to prevent falls and it won’t disturb people. Some of our patients can be here for a long time so it should be good for them,” she added.
For the first six months of the trial, the SAFE system will run in “passive mode” and for the rest of the time it will be fully operational.
This will allow researchers to compare results for before and after the system was up and running.
Margaret Cooper, associate director of research and development at Morecambe Bay, said staff were “incredibly excited” about the trial, describing it as “a very big deal”.
“Hopefully, patients will be prevented from falling and their needs can be met even more rapidly,” she said.
She stressed that the system was an extra safeguard and not a substitute for nursing care.
“Care is already excellent on Ward 20 and SAFE could mean that the nursing staff can provide even better care. This system would be an add-on and not a substitute for gaps in care,” she said.
Søren Udby, project manager for Rinicare, said the SAFE system offered a “completely new” approach to falls prevention, which was a massive challenge across the NHS.
“The SAFE device is small and inconspicuous,” she said. “It doesn’t have lights, it doesn’t make sounds and there are no moving parts so patients shouldn’t even notice it is there.
“Even if a fall can’t be prevented, the nursing staff can get to the patient sooner. Time is often of the essence in such cases,” she said.
SAFE mobile alarm
Ms Udby said the technology could be particularly useful for patients with dementia and delirium.
“As sleep is hugely important to people with dementia, the fact SAFE does not disturb patients is hugely beneficial,” she said.
The system, which can currently manage about 100 beds per computer server, could be used for the care of patients with epilepsy and sepsis in future, she said.
Meanwhile, it also had the potential to be used in non-hospital settings such as care homes and prisons.
The study at Morecambe Bay will allow developers to evaluate how the system worked in practice.
“We are doing the study to see how accurate it is in a real-life situation with patients on a busy ward,” said Ms Udby.