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Study claims to have found solution to reducing alarm fatigue

If you have visited anyone in a hospital setting lately, you might have noticed that the rather sophisticated medical machinery in the rooms throughout the wing emitted a fair number of beeps, buzzing and even alarms.

As it turns out, the built-in alarm systems on this medical machinery have become somewhat problematic for medical professionals over the last few years, leading to a phenomenon known as "clinical alarm fatigue."

For those unfamiliar with this term, it essentially means that medical staff -- nurses in particular -- are so bombarded with the constant beeps and unnecessary alarms emitted by medical machinery on a daily basis that they become desensitized to them. The danger here, of course, is that hospital staff could discount a warning as a literal false alarm, when, in fact, it's actually a life-threatening situation for the patient.

While it might be tempting to dismiss the danger posed by clinical alarm fatigue, consider that the Joint Commission, the nonprofit that certifies and accredits over 20,000 health care facilities in the U.S., has identified clinical alarm fatigue as a so-called Sentinel Event Alert that can be attributed to at least 80 fatalities from January 2009 to June 2012.

Interestingly, a recent study performed by researchers at Boston Medical Center may help hospitals all over the nation combat the problem of clinical alarm fatigue.

As part of a pilot project, the researchers changed the alarm settings in BMC's cardiology unit for bradycardia, tachycardia and heart rate parameter limits to the crisis setting and also eliminated self-resetting alarms. This meant that nursing staff would be required to actually view and take the necessary actions each time an alarm sounded.

The pilot project not only served to increase patient and nursing staff satisfaction, it also produced no adverse events/critical errors and reduced the number of cardiac alarms per week by 89 percent.

Breaking the numbers down, the researchers found the following after altering the alarm settings:

  • The number of daily audible alarms dropped by an average of 12,546 on the unit to 1,424.
  • The number of weekly audible alarms dropped by an average of 87,823 on the unit to 9,967.

The study, published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, concluded that self-resetting alarms were perhaps one of the primary factors behind clinical alarm fatigue and that their safe elimination can prove highly beneficial. Indeed, Boston Medical Center has now introduced new alarm settings throughout all of its hospital units.

It should be interesting to see if hospitals here in West Virginia and across the U.S. are willing to introduce these changes in the name of patient safety.

If you have been injured or lost a loved one as a result of what you believe was medical malpractice, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

Source: FierceHealthcare, "Monitor adjustments reduce alarm fatigue at Boston hospital," Katie Sullivan, Jan. 16, 2014; Boston University Medical Center, " BMC alleviates alarm fatigue by decreasing noise," Jan. 15, 2014

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