Patient fall risk associated with bed-exit alarm reset time
October 30, 2013

Our partner, ECRI Institute, has issued a patient safety alert concerning bed-exit alarms. Some bed-exit alarms do not immediately reset after sounding. During the reset process, which may take several seconds, there may be no indication that the alarm is not activated. If a patient exits the bed during this reset interval, the alarm will not sound, increasing the likelihood of patient injury.

Bed-exit alarms are devices designed to alert staff when a patient is attempting to exit the bed. The type of alarm used in the reported incident was a pressure sensor that fits under the patient, either as an integral part of the bed or as a removable sensor pad. Once the alarm has been activated, the process for resetting it will vary from brand to brand. With some models, patients will need to lie back on the bed and remain there for a short period of time (10-30 seconds) to enable the reset. With other models, staff will need to manually reactivate the alarm before it will sound again, but even then there may be a short period of time before the alarm is ready. Because bed-exit alarms may not be fully operational immediately after being activated or reset, users of these alarms are encouraged to adhere to the recommendations below. Although the focus of this report is on pressure sensing models, other bed exit alarms designs may also have alarm reset requirements.

ECRI Institute recommends the following:

  • Determine the alarm reset procedure for each bed-exit alarm model in use in your facility. The procedure for resetting alarms will vary based on the alarm manufacturer, model, and individual settings. This information can be found in the alarms’ instructions for use and bed manuals that have integrated bed alarms.
  • After assisting a patient in returning to bed, staff should remain with the patient for an appropriate period of time (based on alarm type and settings) to ensure the alarm is properly reset.
  • Bed-exit alarms are not a substitute for good judgment and practice. Staff should be aware that alarms will not prevent patients from attempting to leave their beds, and some patients may exit their beds faster than staff can respond to the alarm. Staff are encouraged to closely supervise patients who may be prone to noncompliance (because of dementia, restlessness, incontinence, etc.) and take steps to reduce their desire to leave their bed (such as providing assistance to the toilet at regular intervals).

To review the full alert, please log into your ECRI account and go to the Patient Safety E-lerts Archive.