Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Hospital Alarms

According to an article published in The Washington Post, several hundred alarms per patient per day can cause alarm fatigue in any given hospital. Loud alarms can come from medical devices and equipment that scan for potentially dangerous changes in a patient’s heart rhythm, blood pressure or other vital signs.

However, most of the noises coming from a patient’s room is a false alarm or is something that doesn’t require any action, such as a ventilator sounding a warning all because a patient coughed. This can cause nurses and other health care workers to respond by turning down the volume on the devices, shutting them off or completely ignoring them. These actions can have serious and potentially fatal consequences.

Patient-safety advocates have warned of alarm fatigue for years, but the issue is taking on greater urgency as hospitals invest in more-complex and noisy machines that are meant to save lives. 

The ECRI Institute, a Pennsylvania-based patient-safety organization, listed alarm hazards as the number one issue on its annual list of top 10 health-technology dangers for 2012 and 2013. And over a three and a half year period, the Joint Commission estimated that there were close to 1,000 alarm incidents in which patients died or were injured.

Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore created an alarms task force, analyzed data and found that the average number of alarms that sounded per bed per day in one ICU was 771.  

In seven years, the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical devices, received 862 death reports associated with alarms. The agency is increasing staff awareness of alarm safety when it reviews applications for new devices. It is also working with hospitals and other groups to standardize alarm sounds.

Just last month, the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, began directing facilities to make alarm safety a top priority or risk losing their accreditation. Beginning next year, the commission will require hospitals to identify which alarms pose the biggest safety risks by unnecessarily adding noise or being ignored. By 2016, hospitals must decide who has the authority to actually turn off the alarms.

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Phoenix, AZ 85016

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