Risk Management

Oct 27, 2011

Kettering students use Industrial Engineering principles to help prevent patient falls at local healthcare facilities

Patients falling while staying in hospitals is a serious problem, for both the patients, who risk physical injury or even death, and for the hospitals themselves, which are often held liable for patient falls, resulting in significant costs.

By applying core Industrial Engineering values, students in Dr. Matthew Sanders’ senior capstone class helped Genesys Hospital evaluate and streamline its visual cueing system to better alert hospital staff, visitors and patients about fall risks.

Students Lucy Engle, Melissa Lamb, Alicia Neering, Courtney Wardell and Jason Schall worked on the project. The solution they developed for Genesys aimed at making risk assessment levels more clear and making it easier to educate and communicate those risks quickly through clearer signage.

“Patients falling is one of the most expensive things that happens at healthcare facilities,” Sanders said. “Patients falling could result in death or heavy duty injury to the patient, it could result in lawsuits to the hospital. We wanted to find ways to help prevent falls, to help nurses and others know the risk of falls more clearly. The students came up with signs and notations that make people see and understand the risk – staff, family and patients themselves could all look at the same signs and understand the risk the same way.”

All healthcare facilities use signage to label whether or not patients are fall risks. However, the meaning of the signage may be clear to employees, but outsiders may not understand.

“Genesys was using a bell sign that was on the doors of patients who were fall risks, but not everyone knows what that means,” Sanders said. “The students came up with a color coded graphic that shows and clearly states whether the patient is a low, moderate or high risk for falling.”

The students used a very common Industrial Engineering tool – Value Stream Mapping – to evaluate the needs at the hospital and come up with the best solution. The biggest values they brought to the project were fresh eyes.

“Most of what they came up with were common sense ideas,” Sanders said. “But sometimes, things that seem like common sense have to be pointed out by outsiders. It’s harder to see if you’re working in the environment every day. Our students went over and gave fresh and unbiased ideas. That was the key to what they were able to come up with.”


Along with the signage, the students also came up with wrist bands that patients would wear at all times, alerting employees to the potential fall hazard of each. These bracelets are particularly useful as patients often have to move to different areas of the hospital for testing or treatment. Under the old system, the signage in the patients’ rooms wouldn’t move with them, so the bracelets address that. They also suggested use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in the hospital wrist bands.

The project was a success and components of it will possibly be adopted at Genesys.

“They loved it at the hospital, they were so pleased with it,” Sanders said. “They planned to implement some of the ideas students gave them.”

The project is a good example of the flexibility of Industrial Engineering principles, which can be applied in virtually any setting, not just in the heavy industry sector.

Sanders encourages his students to think about those principles in relation to many different fields. Recent capstone projects have focused on a wide array of disciplines, from helping implement a geothermal heating system and water collection irrigation system at an urban farm to helping streamline medical records and even this semester, working with Genesee County Probate Court to make accessing and processing court records more efficient.

“The students are learning tools they can use anywhere,” Sanders said. “I want students to think outside the box, I don’t want them to say, ‘Hey, I got my bachelor’s in industrial engineering therefore I have to work in a manufacturing or automotive company.’ They are wide open, they can use those tools in any area. There is a need for lifelong learning. You learn the tools and then use and apply them for any particular business.”

Another group of students in Sanders' capstone class worked on a project with Probate Court to to streamline operations and make services more customer and employee friendly to help the court save both time and money.

Contact: Patrick Hayes
phayes@kettering.edu
(810) 762-9538