Joint Commission warns of 'alarm fatigue'

April 10, 2013 at 12:21 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 10 (UPI) -- U.S. physicians are becoming desensitized, immune or overwhelmed by constant hospital medical alarms, or "alarm fatigue," researchers say.

The Joint Commission, the national non-profit group that accredits U.S. hospitals, issued a sentinel event alert to hospitals that said alarm fatigue could jeopardize patients.

The alert said from January 2009 to June 2012, 80 alarm-related deaths and 13 serious alarm-related injuries were reported, but since hospitals report these events voluntarily the number of injuries and death could be higher, and it urged hospitals "to take a focused look at this serious patient safety issue," The Boston Globe reported.

Many medical devices have alarm systems; among them are bedside physiologic monitors that include electrocardiogram machines, pulse oximetry devices and monitors of blood pressure and other parameters, central station monitors, infusion pumps and ventilators.

Due to the constant noise, physicians might turn down the volume of the alarm, turn it off, or adjust the alarm settings outside safe parameters and these could have serious, often fatal, consequences, the alert said.

The Joint Commission recommended hospitals identify alarm-equipped medical devices used in high-risk areas and for high-risk conditions and develop a consensus on how they should be set; identify situations when alarm signals are not clinically necessary; establish guidelines for alarm settings and train hospital staff on safe alarm management.

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