Portner & Shure Provides 3 Tips to Avoid Harm from Alarm Fatigue

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Alarm fatigue has just been listed as a top safety concern for hospitals - Portner & Shure shows you how to avoid becoming just another statistic

Sometimes, adages prove to be true in the most unexpected places: Less is more.

Alarm fatigue is a symptom of the ongoing alerts from patient monitors in hospitals. Having just been named a top hospital safety concern, there are ways to avoid the risk it causes.

Alarms in hospitals are little codes that alert doctors and nurses of changing conditions in patients who are being monitored. While alarms are an efficient way to communicate information about the patient, they have proved to be a safety risk for patients.

With alarms for every different change in condition, from mild to severe, hospital staff members are now becoming desensitized to the constant din of alarms. Doborah Whalen, a clinical nurse manager at the Boston Medical Center states, “Alarm fatigue is when there are so many noises on the unit that it actually desensitizes the staff…If you have multiple alarms going off with varying frequencies, you just don’t hear them.” The problem is that many alarms require no action at all from the staff, and thus, are simply not needed. Many hospital staff choose to cope with the countless alarms by tuning them out or even turning them off.

The Society for Technology in Anesthesia announced, just this month, the results of a national survey. It was found that 19 out of 20 hospitals surveyed report alarm fatigue as a top safety concern. The survey revealed that medical professionals are exposed to 350 alarms per bed per day, which comes out to thousands of alarms per unit. With all of these alarms vying for the attention of the medical staff, it is easy for the true emergencies to be lost in the noise.

One way for hospitals to overcome this problem is through adjusting monitor alarms. The Boston Medical Center took charge to make alarm adjustments and are already seeing the benefits it can provide. The hospital managed to reduce its weekly audible cardiac alarm rate by 89 percent through adjusting the alarms for bradycaria, tachycarhia, and heart rate limits in their cardiac care unit. With their work prioritized, the staff quickly responds to crisis alarms and nurse-call buttons making their day much more manageable. These adjustments can be translated to other units and other hospitals by changing the settings and priority of the alarms to prevent mistakes that can lead to medical malpractice. For patients to protect themselves, medical malpractice attorneys suggest:

1) Asking for the nurse or doctor to limit the extraneous alarms on your own monitor to ensure that their attention is directed towards you when there is an important shift in your condition that needs attention.

2) On the other hand, be sure to have the nurse double check that the alarms signaling emergencies for your monitor are turned on high enough for them to hear outside of the room.

3) Having a friends and family visit you while you are in the hospital to ensure that your needs are being met.

Sometimes, adages prove to be true in the most unexpected places: Less is more.

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Jonathan Portner
since: 11/2009
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Portner & Shure, P.A.
since: 01/2010
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Portner and Shure, P.A.

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