Cause for Alarm: When Healthcare Providers Ignore Hospital Monitor Alerts
When staff assumes the alert is false, the high number of medical equipment alarms in hospitals puts patients at risk.
According to The Joint Commission, the accrediting agency for hospitals in the United States, the number of alarms that sound for patients who need critical care can be several hundred each day. Another study estimates that 350 alarms can be issued per day for a patient from just one cardiac monitor.
Just some of the medical devices that provide an alert to caregivers include ECG machines, pulse oximetry, pumps, and ventilator devices, and a wide array of machines that monitor patient condition. Bed alarms, while widely seen as means to prevent falls by older or fragile patients, can feel restrictive to patients who fear setting off the alarm.
The high number of beeps, chirps and alarms is a problem for healthcare providers. The percentage of monitor alarms found to be false is approximately 72 to 99 percent, leading to a condition dubbed “alarm fatigue.” Recognized as a real threat to patient safety, alarm fatigue leads nursing and other staff to ignore alarms, given that a larger number of them are false. As a result, injury or death can occur when staff ignore an alarm monitor that is signaling a serious patient issue.
Here are some other disturbing statistics cited by Nurse.org:
- One hospital charted an average of one million alarms in one week.
- A children’s hospital recorded 5300 alerts in one day, with a 95 percent false rate.
- More than 560 deaths were reported to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) related to monitor alarms between 2005 and 2008. Between 2009 and 2012, there were 80 deaths and 13 serious injuries reported as related to equipment alarms.
While the use of monitor alarms can save lives, alarm fatigue can lead to injury and death. Steps suggested by The Joint Commission include the inspection and maintenance of alarm-equipped monitors, guidelines for the use of alarm devices with individual patients, inventory monitor devices in the ICU and other critical risk areas, and developing leadership responsible for monitor management and response.
The problem of alarm fatigue will continue for the foreseeable future. Despite awareness by healthcare professionals of the problem, the difference between an alarm answered and an alarm ignored could be injury or a life lost.
If you or a family member is injured by a bad medical call, speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
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