Alarm Fatigue Case Spurs Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

A Wareham Massachusetts hospital is the subject of a medical malpractice suit after an 87 patient died while admitted to Tobey Hospital. Edward Harrington, 87, died from cardiac arrest after no one responded to alarms coming from his cardiac monitor. According to the Boston Globe, “His electrocardiogram displayed a “flat line” for more than two hours because the battery in his heart monitor had died, but no one changed the battery, according to state Department of Public Health investigators.”
The malpractice lawsuit concerns what has become known as “alarm fatigue”. The issue was featured earlier this year in the Globe. It results when healthcare staff, including nurses and doctors, become immune to the sounds of buzzers and alarms going off in a patient’s room. As a result, the warning signals are ignored and patients may be injured, some seriously such as Edward Harrington. The problem has become so acute that some hospital officials have finally begun to take steps to address the problem.
The Globe reported yesterday, “Since the death, which was first reported by the Globe in a series on alarm fatigue earlier this year, the hospital said it has taken aggressive steps to improve nurses’ responses. The Globe reported that at least 200 patients, and probably many more, have died nationwide since 2005 in cases involving alarm fatigue and other alarm-related problems.”

Holly Haines