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Hospitalists Should Consider Fall Risks with Sleep Agent


An author of a new study associating the hypnotic zolpidem (Ambien) with higher rates of patient falls says hospitalists should keep the popular drug’s risks front of mind.

The retrospective cohort study in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, “Zolpidem is Independently Associated with Increased Risk of Inpatient Falls,” found that the rate of falls increased nearly six times among patients taking the sleep agent. The research team at the Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, N.Y., calculated one additional fall for every 55 admitted patients who were administered the treatment.

“What this says to me is if one is going to use zolpidem, you have to be aware you’re increasing the risk of fall,” says sleep specialist Timothy Morgenthaler, MD, the Mayo Clinic’s chief patient officer. “Knowledgeable of that, one ought to consider whether there are alternatives or whether the risks outweigh the goal in that setting.”

Dr. Morgenthaler says zolpidem is the most commonly prescribed hypnotic at his hospital, and believes it to be the most common treatment in the U.S. He began studying the issue after nurses reported that it appeared patients were falling after taking the agent. In response to the study, Mayo Clinic removed zolpidem from many of its admission order sets and attempted to help improve patient sleep via other methods, including noise reduction.

“We haven’t removed it from our formulary, and I’m not saying it doesn’t have a role in some points,” he says, “but rather than encouraging it as an option in patients being admitted into the patient, we’re choosing instead now to encourage nonpharmacologic sleep enhancements.”

Visit our website for more information about HM’s approach to patient falls.

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