Electric Blanket in Nursing Home

Q: My mother suffers from a syndrome which causes her feet to turn white and feel extremely icy. She is not allowed to use an electric blanket which allows her to sleep since moving to a nursing facility. Can the doctor write a prescription to supersede the rule?

A: I’m sorry to hear about your mother… If you go to my website and type in “Electric blanket” in the search engine, you will get this response which I wrote 2 years ago:

Q: Are electric blankets permitted to be used by patients in long term care facilities? I cannot find any references to electric blankets in any NFPA codes or standard.

A: Technically, you are correct: There is no specific NFPA code or standard that prohibits the use of electric blankets in healthcare. However, there are significant risks to the patient and staff if you do use them, and before you allow the use of electric blankets, you need to conduct a risk assessment. At a minimum, the risk assessment needs to address to following issues:

  • Could the heat generated from the blanket cause epidermal damage to the patient?
  • Could the electrical portion of the blanket become damaged due to abuse or spillage, and cause harm to the patient?
  • Could the electrical cord become damaged (frayed) by other wheeled equipment rolling on top of the cord?
  • Could the electrical cord become a tripping hazard to the patient or staff?
  • Could the patient accidentally set the temperature control too high and cause damage to their body?
  • How will the electric blankets be maintained and inspected, and who will perform this task?

Another issue that you need to address… Why do you want to use electric blankets? Is the patient room too cool for the patient’s comfort level? There are minimum temperature levels that the organization must meet. If a surveyor observes the use of electric blankets, they have the right to investigate to determine if you did a risk assessment that addresses all of the above issues, and more. They have the right to review your risk assessment and they have the right to disagree with the conclusions in the risk assessment. In other words, no matter how you justify their use, a surveyor can still cite you for an unsafe environment for using electric blankets if they want.

My advice: Stay away from electric blankets, and do not allow them. They become more problems than they are worth. Check with your state and local authorities to determine if they have regulations that would prohibit their use.

To answer your question directly… no, a physician doe snot have the power to write an order that supersedes the Life Safety Code, or any other regulatory requirement. However, healthcare organizations may take Interim Life Safety Measures (ILSM) when situations require the non-compliance of a code or standard.

While electric blankets are not prohibited from use in healthcare organizations, they do present a certain level of risk. If administration wants to re-evaluate that risk and take special precautions to accommodate your mother, that would be permitted.