Developing guidance for patient movement requests

Clear guidelines in policy needed


In hospital medicine, inpatients often request more freedom to move within the hospital complex for a wide range of both benign and potentially concerning reasons, says Sara Stream, MD.

A patient walks the hallway pulling his IV pole.

“Hospitalists are often confronted with a dilemma when considering these patient requests: how to promote patient-centered care and autonomy while balancing patient safety, concerns for hospital liability, and the delivery of timely, efficient medical care,” said Dr. Stream, a hospitalist at the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System. Guidance from medical literature and institutional policies on inpatient movement are lacking, so Dr. Stream coauthored an article seeking to develop a framework with which hospitalists can approach patient requests for liberalized movement.

The authors concluded that for a small subset of patients, liberalized movement within the hospital may be clinically feasible: those who are medically, physically, and psychiatrically stable enough to move off their assigned floors without inordinate risk. “For the rest of inpatients, movement outside their monitored inpatient settings may interfere with appropriate medical care and undermine the indications for acute hospitalization,” Dr. Stream said.

Creating institutional policy that identifies relevant clinical, legal and ethical considerations, while incorporating the varied perspectives of physicians, patients, nurses, and hospital administration/risk management will allow requests for increased movement to be evaluated systematically and transparently.

“When patients request liberalized movement, hospitalists should consider the requests systematically: first to identify the intent behind requests, and then to follow a framework to determine whether increased movement would be safe and allow appropriate medical care without creating additional risks,” Dr. Stream said.

Hospitalists should assess and compile individual patient requests for liberalized movement and work with other physicians, nurses, hospital administration, and risk management to devise pertinent policy on this issue that is specific to their institutions. “By eventually creating clear guidelines in policy, health care providers will spend less time managing each individual request to leave the floor because they have a systematic strategy for making consistent decisions about patient movement,” the authors concluded.


1. Stream S, Alfandre D. “Just Getting a Cup of Coffee” – Considering Best Practices for Patients’ Movement off the Hospital Floor. J Hosp Med. 2019 Nov. doi: 10.12788/jhm.3227.

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