Alarm Fatigue and Patient Safety

A few months ago, the Boston Globe published a two-part series concerning medical alarms and patient safety. The Globe investigation focused on the prevalence of medical alarm monitors and how often they are ignored due to a phenomenon known as “alarm fatigue” in the industry.
According to the Globe report, “They call it “alarm fatigue.’’ Monitors help save lives, by alerting doctors and nurses that a patient is — or soon could be — in trouble. But with the use of monitors rising, their beeps can become so relentless, and false alarms so numerous, that nurses become desensitized — sometimes leaving patients to die without anyone rushing to their bedside. On a 15-bed unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, staff documented an average of 942 alarms per day — about 1 critical alarm every 90 seconds.”
Alarm fatigue is a real healthcare hazard that has been linked to more than 200 hospital patient deaths in a five year span from 2005-2010. The Globe’s investigation led them to the conclusion that “the problem typically wasn’t a broken device. In many cases it was because medical personnel didn’t react with urgency or didn’t notice the alarm.”