Is hospital staff immune to alarms?

Alarm fatigue is a large concern of hospitals today and can lead to severe complications and death of patients.

Within any New Mexico hospital, people will hear a number of noises, including beeps, buzzes and full-out alarms. Fierce Healthcare points out that in an intensive care unit at one hospital, there were 350 different alarms that go off every day per bed. Now a new survey raises concern that with so many different alarms going off all the time, hospital staff is becoming immune to them. The survey showed that out of 20 hospitals asked about alarm fatigue, 19 identified it as a "top patient safety concern."

Alarm turned off

In many cases, American Nurse Today magazine points out that alarms are turned off by many hospital staff members. In one situation, a patient became unresponsive. Alarms went off to alert staff that he was not getting enough oxygen and his heart rate was increasing. However, because someone had turned off the alarm volume, it was an hour before his condition was noticed by a nurse. The man died as a result of the delay in care. He is not the only fatality involving alarms either. One report showed that over a three-year period, alarm issues lead to the deaths of 560 people.

Contributing factors

There are many contributing factors in alarm fatigue and these include the following:

  • Alarm response training is lacking
  • Individual patient settings are not performed on the alarms
  • Staff cannot figure out where the alarm is sounding from or hear it
  • Parameter thresholds are not loose enough for the alarm
  • Alarm response is hampered by low staffing

Additionally, some equipment simply isn't working correctly. For example, if an electrocardiogram electrode is not handled the right way, it can send out false alarms. This is quite common for 85 to 95 percent of all alarms that go off, contributing to the fatigue that hospital staff develop.

Changing the alarms to fix the problem

The combination of hundreds of alarms going off and the majority of them being false can create a situation where hospital staff become desensitized to them. However, one hospital in Boston has made some changes that appear to be fixing the problem, according to NPR news. The hospital has reduced its alarms down to 10,000 a week instead of the previous 90,000.

One method that has helped is to empower nurses to customize the patients' needs to the alarm settings. Higher significance was given to alarms that focused on patients' vital signs while other alarms were turned off for alerts that were not potentially harmful. For example, if a patient's heart stops or goes into arrhythmia, which can be fatal, a three-burst alarm warns staff of the crisis. Now that the amount of beeping has been greatly reduced, staff have a better chance of hearing it and paying attention.

When people in Albuquerque are brought into a hospital, they should be given the best of care. In cases where this has not occurred, they may want to discuss their options with an experienced attorney.