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Bed rails and the risk to patient safety

In hospitals and nursing homes, it's common to see bed rails being used. These rails are there to protect patients from falling out of bed and hurting themselves. They do lead to some unwanted consequences for some people, though.

For example, between 1985 and 2009, there were 803 reported incidents involving patients who were trapped, tangled in, strangled in or caught in bed rails. In 480 of those cases, people died from their injuries. Most cases involving injuries and deaths were due to the patients being confused, frail or elderly.

For patients who have trouble getting out of bed, with their motor skills or who cannot walk without assistance, it may be assessed that the best way to protect them is with a bed rail. This railing keeps them in bed and prevents them from getting up without assistance. However, if a person catches him or herself in the rails, it's possible to end up with injuries. Some common injuries include cuts, scrapes or bruises. Others may feel the railing is unnecessarily restrictive.

There are, of course, benefits to bed rails. They can help you turn and position yourself in bed, and they can provide a sense of comfort that you won't fall out. Rails also provide easy access to bed controls, which may be on the railing itself.

Preventing injuries starts by assessing patients properly. Railings should be used when patients need them and not when they are capable of walking or getting out of bed unassisted. If your loved one is hurt when these items shouldn't have been used, or if your loved one is hurt because they are used improperly, then you may be entitled to compensation to help with your family member's care.

Source: Food and Drug Administration, "A Guide to Bed Safety," accessed Aug. 11, 2016

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