Q: At my hospital, we do not allow electric blankets in patient rooms. Several Charge Nurse’s did ask where the reference was located regarding this issue. I could not find in anything referenced in The Joint Commission standards or in NFPA 101 LSC that referenced the use of electric blankets. Obviously, there is referenced information on prohibited use of electric space heaters. So can electric blankets be used in patient care occupied rooms?
Steve MacArthur: Well, it sounds like we’re in agreement that the thought of electric blankets is equally undesirable, but in looking at the regulatory landscape, there is no specific prohibition of the little blighters. So, the default setting is for them to be treated as any other piece of electrically-operated medical equipment that comes into contact with the patient, which means consideration has to be given to identifying a proper frequency for inspection, and then establishing a program for training end-users on the proper care and use. That said, some other considerations (courtesy of my esteemed colleague, Brad Keyes, CHSP) would be:
- Why do the nurses want to use electric blankets? That implies a problem with maintaining adequate temperature for the patient, which is a violation of EC.02.06.01, EP 13. It seems to me to be a conundrum: You are not prohibited from using electric blankets, but if you do, that implies that you’re not maintaining proper temperature levels for the patient which is a violation of EC.02.06.01, EP 13.
- What about the logistics of the electric cord? You can’t just drape it across the floor to an electrical outlet where someone can step on it or trip over it. You also would have the potential problem of the wheel on the bed rolling across the cord and pinching it, which is an electrical hazard. I absolutely agree with Brad’s points regarding the management of patient temperature, and I can tell you from personal experience (and you can try this at home) that clinical staff frequently do not use thermal blankets correctly. They just pile them on top of each other, resulting in one patient having five blankets and there being none on the linen cart for the rest of the unit. A single thermal blanket and a single sheet are really all you need to keep someone pretty toasty—the “holes” in the thermal blanket allows air flow, but if there’s nothing solid to cover the holes, the warmth just escapes.
In poking around the web, I don’t know that I found any evidence of a device that would be safe to use in the patient vicinity (within six feet of the patient). Also, in stumbling across the Electric Blanket Institute website (hwww.electricblanketinstitute.com/safety.html) they have a number of recommendations, one of which is not to use electric blankets on automatic beds because of the pretty significant risk of pinching damage.
Apparently there is also anecdotal information that electric blankets can have a deleterious effect on pacemakers, but they could provide no hard data in either direction. I think it comes down to there being no strict prohibition or a strict endorsement, which places it firmly in the land of the risk assessment. That said, if it were my house, I would say no, as much because there is no endorsement of the use of this product in hospitals. Now if someone were to identify one that is “safe” for use in hospitals, then we could have further discussion, but for the time being, I say stand firm and try the thermal blanket/sheet combination—low tech for sure, but if the patient is even “warmable” (and you know what I’m talking about), that should do the trick.