UAMC Study: Do Wearable Sensors Predict and Prevent Patient Falls?

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers at the University of Arizona Medical Center are studying whether small, wearable sensors that measure a patient’s activity, heart rate, wakefulness and other biometrics can predict and prevent falls, one of the leading causes of injury to hospitalized patients.

In an innovative study, researchers are using Zephyr BioModule sensors to continuously track patients’ skin temperature, physical activity, heart rate, respirations and echocardiogram readings. The more than 2GB of patient data collected daily per sensor then is plotted against an algorithm that estimates fall risk.

The technology will collect a massive amount of data regarding patient activity while in the hospital, and will help more accurately pinpoint which patients are most likely to fall. Although the study is solely collecting data for this phase, eventually the system can be used to alert nursing staff or even a family member when a fall seems imminent.

More than 500,000 falls happen each year in U.S. hospitals, resulting in 150,000 injuries, according to an estimate from the National Patient Safety Foundation. This ongoing issue prompted UAMC’s Administrator of Nursing Research and Practice Cindy Rishel, PhD, to ask for help finding a more innovative solution.

“We currently use the Heinrich II fall risk assessment to determine patients’ risk for falling,” Dr. Rishel explained. “But it’s not as thorough as we’d like, and often our assessment of risk is subjective when based on patient self-reporting.”

Bijan Najafi, PhD, UA associate professor of surgery, medicine and engineering and director of interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance (iCAMP), and his team of engineers, welcomed the challenge.
Zephyr Technology, from Annapolis, Md., agreed to lend UAMC the equipment and technology for the study, with any additional costs and manpower provided by iCAMP.

The year-long study was kicked off in September 2013 in a hematology/oncology unit at UAMC’s University Campus, a population chosen for their typically longer hospital stays and increased risk for falls and bleeding. “Our patients enjoy being a part of research studies because they understand these things strengthen our ability to care for them,” said Jessica Schroder, RN, BSN, clinical leader of the unit involved in the study. “The Zephyr sensor is small and lightweight, and our patients like that it doesn't beep or blink at them like many other things they get hooked up to.”

There have been 43 participants in the first six months, with a goal of 50. But Drs. Najafi and Rishel are in the process of requesting an extension to allow them to reach 100 participants and further strengthen their findings.
“We are lucky to have the support of the nursing staff in the participating unit, which is key to ensure the final product is patient-centric,” Dr. Najafi said. “One of iCAMP’s prior wearable technology designed for fall prevention in patients’ homes was just honored at this year’s mHealth Summit, the world’s largest mobile health event, and we’re hopeful that this new generation for inpatient application follows the same successful pathway.”

About Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance (iCAMP)

iCAMP is an interdisciplinary research and development collaboration among a host of teams—including podiatric and vascular surgery, orthopaedics, nursing, geriatrics, anthropology and engineering at University of Arizona. This group of clinicians, research-scientists and biomedical engineers shares a common vision: to advance objective, innovative and practical interventions coupled with outcomes evaluation using human motion assessment in many unique areas of clinical medicine. For more information, please visit

About the University of Arizona Medical Center
The University of Arizona Medical Center is nationally recognized for exceptional patient care, teaching new health-care professionals and conducting groundbreaking research. It consistently is listed among the nation’s top hospitals in U.S. News & World Report’s prestigious “Best Hospitals” rankings. For appointments or further information, please visit

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