Blog Spotlight: Boston Globe highlights dangers of alarm fatigue
February 16, 2011
In a two-part series, The Boston Globe has explored the dangers of alarm fatigue, a term used to describe frontline staff becoming desensitized to the incessant beeping of copious amounts of medical machines in hospitals.
Alarms are ignored because they are not high priority, such as those that indicate low batteries; they are too frequent, such a nuisance alarms that go off when a lead falls off a patient; or too sensitive, sounding off when a patient coughs or turns over. There is also the danger of turning down or shutting off alarms because they keep going off unnecessarily, only to be missed later when there is a true emergency. Alarms can also be programmed incorrectly.
The problem is certainly at the forefront of patient safety. The Patient Safety Monitor Journal recently spoke with experts at the ECRI Institute, which consistently ranks alarm fatigue as a top healthcare technology hazard, about the problem in the latest issue of Patient Safety Monitor Journal. They say the amount of alarms a single nurse must listen for during his or her shift reaches into the hundreds.