A New Problem Sounding the Alarms

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If you have ever been to a hospital, you know that there are many noises associated with the institution. The beeps of a monitor, the buzzing of a machine, and the other sounds of the instruments are all just a part of a busy hospital unit. However, as nurses and doctors become accustomed to hearing the every-day sounds of their workplace, a very serious problem is emerging. Since most of the noises are false alarms or don’t require action, medical staff are developing what is being known as “alarm fatigue.”

Alarm Fatigue happens when medical workers overwhelmed by constant and loud alarm rings turn down the volume on the devices, shut them off or simply ignore them. These actions can lead to serious personal injury or wrongful death. A recent study estimated that the average number of alarms that sounded per bed per day in one ICU was 771. This is obviously more than staff and patients can take, and hospitals have to make a priority of reviewing their alarm systems. Another focus of this topic is trying to “standardize” many of the machines and manufacturers, in an attempt to make the machine and alarms uniform to all hospitals.

Clinicians and advocates for the patients have warned of alarm fatigue for years, but the issue is taking on greater urgency as hospitals invest in more-complex, often-noisy devices meant to save lives. Last month, the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, directed facilities to make alarm safety a top priority or risk losing their accreditation. The commission is requiring hospitals, starting in January, to identify the alarms that pose the biggest safety risks by unnecessarily adding noise or being ignored. By 2016, hospitals must decide who has the authority to turn off alarms.

In one case, an elderly woman’s heart-rate monitor beeped unnoticed by staff for several minutes. Her nurse was preparing medication in another room where she could not hear or see the patient or the monitoring system. By the time the nurse responded, the patient had suffered irreversible damage, and died shortly afterward.

Alarm fatigue is a critical problem affecting many patients and their families. Should you or a loved one suffer an injury and believe it was a consequence of behaviors such as this, contact an attorney today.

 

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