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This article is part of the supplement: Selected articles from the XXV National Congress of the Italian Society of Geriatric Surgery

Open Access Research article

Death after an accidental fall of a 101 year old hospitalized patient. Medico-legal implication of falling in geriatrics

Claudio Terranova1*, Fabrizio Cardin2, Bruno Martella2, Bruno Amato3 and Carmelo Militello2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Medicine, University of Padua, Italy

2 Department of Surgical and Gastroenterological Sciences, University of Padua, Italy

3 University of Naples Federico II - Department of General Surgery, Italy

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BMC Surgery 2012, 12(Suppl 1):S34  doi:10.1186/1471-2482-12-S1-S34

Published: 15 November 2012

Abstract

Background

The case presented by the authors gives the opportunity to discuss the medico-legal issues related to lack of prevention of falls in elderly hospitalized patients.

Case presentation

A 101 year old Caucasian female was admitted to a surgery division for evaluation of abdominal pain of uncertain origin. During hospitalization, after bilateral bed rails were raised, she fell and reported a femoral fracture. Before surgical treatment of the fracture, scheduled for the day after injury, the patient reported a slight reduction in hemoglobin. She received blood transfusion but her general condition suddenly worsened; heart failure was observed and pulseless electrical activity was documented. The patient died 1 day after the fall. Patient relatives requested a judicial evaluation of the case.

The case was studied with a methodological approach based on the following steps: 1) examination of clinical records; 2) autopsy; 3) evaluation of clinicians’ behavior, in the light of necroscopic findings and a review of the literature.

Conclusions

The case shows that an accurate evaluation of clinical and environmental risk factors should be always performed at the moment of admission also in surgery divisions. A multidisciplinary approach is always recommended also with the involvement of the family members. In some cases, as in this one a fall of the patient is expectable but not always avoidable. Physical restraint use should be avoided when not necessary and used only if there are no practical alternatives.