August 12, 2008 | | Comments 0
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Distinguish Between Medical and Behavioral Restraint

From Bud Pate, REHS, Vice President of Content and Development for The Greeley Company:

Surveyors commonly misapply the behavioral health rules to medical restraint. In fairness, the Joint Commission standards and CMS regulations are a more than a little confusing, even when you study them carefully. But the rules for behavioral health restraint are vastly different than those for medical restraint, so your definition should be crystal clear.

Regardless of the location, behavioral health restraint rules should only be applied to address violently aggressive or self disruptive behavior. We recommend that your policy clearly apply the medical restraint rules to the following situations:

– a patient who is in the critical care unit after a suicide attempt and is being restrained to avoind accidental extubation due to twitching or trying to sit up in bed;

– a patient experiencing involuntary thrashing during acute withdrawal syndrome;

– a confused patient who is interfering with nursing care.

“But wait,” you say, “we should use the behavioral health care rules because we are caring for patients with clear emotional disorders.” Or you may say “The confused patient is trying to hurt the nurse, shouldn’t the behavioral health rules apply?”

But remember, all restraint (medical and behavioral) is implemented to address behavior. And if you truly believed the behavioral health care rules applied you would already be staffing these situations with psychiatric nurses. Ask yourself, “would a debriefing be helpful to see how a future episode would be avoided?” I don’t think so.

There will certainly be those who object to this position. If you are one of them, then I encourage you to fully (and I mean fully) implement all the behavioral health care rules to these situations, including: continuous observation, 15 minutes assessments by a staff member with psychiatric training, post-restraint debriefing with the patient, and all the other very restrictive rules. If you don’t feel these measures are clinically necessary, then you agree with me: these are not behavioral health restraint. So define them as medical restraint in your policy.

Remember: we can debate the fine points of a policy with regulators all day long without reaching an adverse conclusion. However, you will definitely be guilty of an infraction if you violate your own policy. In other words: say what you do and do what you say.

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Filed Under: Joint Commission Changes

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Brian Driscoll About the Author: Brian Driscoll is Director of the Association for Healthcare Accreditation Professionals and Executive Editor of the Accreditation/Patient Safety group at HCPro, Inc.

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