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Alarm Fatigue Can Kill

Karis Rozof4 years ago

Alarms go off all the time in hospitals, but medical professionals can easily become “desensitized” to the beeps, said The Joint Commission last month. This can lead to what is known as alarm fatigue.

Alarm Fatigue Leads to Death

  • The commission reported 80 alarm-related deaths and 13 serious injures between January 2009 and June 2012.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists more than 500 potentially alarm-related deaths between January 2005 and June 2010

With hundreds of beeps per patient each day hospital workers can easily become immune to the sounds, especially because most alarms do not indicate an emergency – at least 85% of the time. These alerts add up to thousands a day in a single unit and important alarms are sometimes not specific enough for hospital staff to tell the whether there is an emergency or just a battery dying.

“In response to this constant barrage of noise, clinicians may turn down the volume of the alarm, turn it off, or adjust the alarm settings outside the limits that are safe and appropriate for the patient – all of which can have serious, often fatal, consequences.” – The Joint Commission

Causes of Alarm-related Injury

The following is a list of the most common causes of injury or death from alarm fatigue:

  • Falls
  • Delays in treatment
  • Ventilator use
  • Medication errors

The Joint Commission accredits more than 10,000 U.S. hospitals. Incident reports from hospitals to the organization are voluntary and therefore could represent a smaller proportion of actual events.

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