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ASME Recognizes NPSF-Funded Research Study on Detecting Fall Risks

Tuesday, August 04, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Results of NPSF Grant-Funded Research Project to be Presented at American Society of Mechanical Engineers Conference in Boston

Boston, MA, August 4, 2015— Results of a patient safety research study examining physical design factors contributing to patient falls will be presented at the ASME 2015 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference being held in Boston this week. The research was funded in part by the National Patient Safety Foundation Research Grants Program.


Led by principal investigator Debajyoti Pati, PhD, FIIA, IDEC, LEED®AP, professor and

   Aimee Cloutier, ME, co-investigator
on the project (right), presented the
award-winning paper at the ASME
meeting. She visited the NPSF offices 
and met with staff, including
Patricia McTiernan, MS.

Rockwell Endowment Chair, Department of Design, College of Human Sciences, Texas Tech University, this project involved the perspectives of multiple disciplines, including architecture and design, classical mechanics, and nursing.


According to a 2013 publication from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, falls are the most frequently reported incident in adult inpatient hospital units, and 30% to 51% of falls result in some injury. Prior research into contributing factors has largely focused on intrinsic factors, such as patient-specific conditions, age, use of medications, and the presence of visual or other impairment. Dr. Pati’s team focused on one class of extrinsic factor—the physical design of the hospital room and bathroom.

The paper being presented at the ASME meeting was chosen to receive an award in recognition of the study’s innovative methods. The study design involved several components:

  • The Covenant Hospital (Lubbock, Texas) Falls Committee surveyed the industry to develop representative fall scenarios, which the research team then collated into a “worst-case scenario” script.
  • The team surveyed the design archives of HKS Architects, who have extensive experience in designing hospitals, and created a physical space to represent the typical inpatient bathroom within the Human-Centric Design Research Lab at Texas Tech University.
  • Human subjects selected to match the physical profile of the worst-case fall patients carried out scripted activities in the mocked-up space, conducting trips to the bathroom from the patient bed and use of the toilet and sink.

It is important to note that the human subjects were protected against an actual fall.


The study examined potential falls, defined as “the observation of a consistent increase in the ‘jerk trajectory’ of the center of mass of a human being.’” As Dr. Pati explains, physically, jerk represents the rate of change of acceleration of the center of mass with respect to time, or the “smoothness” of a movement.

During day-to-day activities, people are forced to interact with elements of the physical environment, which involves changes in posture. The team found that three postures are significantly correlated with falls: turning, pushing, and pulling.

“We have identified the specific physical elements in a patient room and bathroom, which when combined with these postures results in potential falls,” said Dr. Pati. “But the postures identified are also those one encounters at home or in long-term care settings.


“The design recommendations made in this study are essentially design hypotheses,” he added. “The next step is to test those out through further studies to develop design guidelines.”


“NPSF congratulates Dr. Pati and his team for their insightful research,” said Tejal K. Gandhi, MD, MPH, CPPS, president and CEO, NPSF. “Falls have been a very challenging patient safety issue for many years, and this team’s contributions take us a step closer to progress in preventing falls.”


Since 1998, NPSF has supported 39 research projects with more than $3.8 million in grant funding. For a compendium of research supported by the NPSF Research Grants Program, see the 2012 Research Program Summary of Progress report. For more information about the NPSF Research Grants program, visit the website.

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