Falls have a significant health and financial burden in care settings. Researchers and designers have become interested in installing shock-resistant flooring in hospitals, nursing homes, and other care settings. However, it is unclear whether such flooring can improve the health of patients and residents, and how cost-effective these interventions might be. A report in Age and Ageing highlights one study that compared the rate of falls and health-related quality of life for patients in hospitals with shock-absorbent floors to those in hospitals with standard floors. While the study did not result in statistically significant differences in falls or injuries across floor types, it does point to considerations for the future study and installation of impact-absorbing flooring.
For the study, which was conducted in England, four hospitals installed shock-absorbent floors in areas that hosted patients at risk for falls, and four hospitals with standard flooring were used as a comparison. Data was collected on the falls, injury, and overall health of patients after three months. The investigators compared the rate of falls and the rate of injuries in these two groups, and extrapolated the likely future cost impact of the result of the falls that occurred. Thus, the investigators were able to conduct an economic cost-benefit analysis, weighing the potential health care expense savings of shock-absorbent flooring against the economic cost of installing such flooring.
Patients in the shock-absorbent areas appeared slightly more likely to experience a fall, but less likely to be injured from a fall. Importantly, however, these differences were not large enough to reach statistical significance, so it should not be inferred that shock-absorbent floors impact falls risk or injuries. The cost analysis suggested that the care expenses of patients in areas with shock-absorbent flooring would end up lower than those moving on standard flooring, but given the possibility that unfamiliar surfaces might make individuals more likely to fall, and the lack of statistically significant differences across the two groups, it cannot be said that new flooring is medically or economically preferable.
These findings suggest the need for further understanding of how absorbent floors may effect falls risk before recommendations on falls-safe flooring can be made. Further, because the study was conducted in the United Kingdom, the financial cost-benefit analysis may differ for providers and patients in the United States, given the differences in health care reimbursement practices between the two nations.
Latimer N, Dixon S, Drahota AK, et al. Cost–utility analysis of a shock-absorbing floor intervention to prevent injuries from falls in hospital wards for older people. Age and Ageing. (2013). DOI: 10.1093/ageing/aft076