Quality | Published January 24, 2013

Color coded footwear is part of comprehensive fall prevention program at Mount Nittany Medical Center

Falling can make matters worse for a patient in a hospital, which is why the Medical/Oncology unit at Mount Nittany Medical Center created a comprehensive fall prevention program that involves color-coded footwear.

“We always had a system in place to help with fall prevention, but because 70 percent of our patients are over 65, we know we have people who can be at very high risk. We knew we could make an improvement and we did,” said Jackie Stone, director of the Medical/ Oncology Unit.

The “stepping stone” system involves a comprehensive approach — involving assessment, education and monitoring. When patients are admitted, they are evaluated for their risk of falling based on their diagnosis, medications, previous history, and observation. Next, knowing that many falls occur with people who are alert and oriented, staff presents the patient with information about the special conditions of the hospital setting that can cause usually stable persons to take a tumble.

For instance, people who are accustomed to using a piece of furniture for some help will find that hospital equipment moves—like the tables, and IV stands. Blood pressure can be different and affect balance. The bed is at a different height than ones at home, or the phone is on the wall instead of a stand. All these environmental factors can contribute to falls, said Stone.

Lastly, patients are given foot- wear that indicates their risk for falling. Red socks mean the patient should not get out of bed without help, yellow indicates that the patient needs assistance with walking and using the restroom, and green means the patient is independent.

Any staff can now be alert to patients’ fall risk just by looking at their feet. “If someone sees a ‘red socks’ person heading down the hall- way, an intervention can be swift,” said Stone. Every unit in the hospital has now considered the specific risks for falling and they are implementing the stepping stone program as well.