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Alarm fatigue and medical malpractice

Written by Ankin Law Office

One of the most basic requirements for hospitals is to properly maintain monitoring systems that alert medical personnel of a patient event that requires their attention. With improvements in technology over the years, many advanced devises have been created to assist healthcare workers in meeting these monitoring requirements. These devices include heart monitors, blood oxygen monitors, ventilators, and many more vital system monitors. Despite their importance, the equipment has some serious problems that industry experts have identified as the leading technological hazard facing hospitals today. It is termed alarm fatigue.

Alarm fatigue

Every monitoring device used in a hospital uses an alarm to notify caregivers that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Medical staff are constantly inundated with the alarms throughout every moment of their shift. According to results from a recent survey by the Physician-Patient Alliance for Health Safety, hospital workers are exposed to an average of 350 alarms per bed each day. In many average sized hospitals, that means that workers face thousands of alarms in every unit every day. Hospital-wide, that number reaches the tens of thousands. Every one of these alarms must be addressed individually.

False alarms exacerbate the problem

The sheer volume of these alarms is further impacted by the fact that anywhere between 86 and 99 percent are false alarms that do not indicate any type of emergency. Due to the prevalent use of these alarms, alarm fatigue may be causing many nurses and other healthcare providers to ignore, tune out, turn down or even turn off many vital alarms. Workers can easily become desensitized and overwhelmed by the constant ringing that these systems create. Even when workers respond to the alarms, they often fail to do so in a timely manner, a negligent act that often leads to hospital errors and severe patient harm.

New requirements from the Joint Commission

The Joint Commission, an independent, non-profit organization responsible for certifying health care organizations throughout the nation, has now created a new National Patient Safety Goal to combat the problem and increase accountability among the nation’s hospitals. It now requires that all accredited hospitals improve their response systems for monitoring alarms beginning in January 2014. In order to maintain their accreditation, the hospitals must comply with the new goal.

Despite the high false alarm rates, nothing excuses hospital workers from providing their patients with sub-standard medical attention. When they fail to do so, patients are injured or killed simply because of negligent behavior. Those who have been injured in such a manner should contact an Illinois medical malpractice attorney for help.

Categories: Medical Malpractice