Alarm Fatigue Causing Deaths in Hospitals
Alarm fatigue is becoming a real issue in health care. The sheer volume of noise, from the loud speaker to the never ending beeps of alarms can be overwhelming. The noise is annoying enough to visitors and patients, but it can be dangerous to health care providers who spend their entire work day in the hospital. The incessant beeping and alarms are desensitizing caregivers and in some cases jeopardizing the health of patient’s.
The US Food and Drug Administration estimates that there has been over 560 deaths tied to alarm fatigue between January 2005 and June 2010. The Joint Commission claims that there had been at least 80 deaths and 13 injuries related to alarms fatigue, and acknowledges that hospitals report the incidents so that number may be much higher. The Commission is responsible for administering and monitoring the coveted hospital accreditation and note that ignoring the beeps may set off a chain reaction that could lead to death or injury.
Alarms may beep for a number of reasons according to the Associated Press. They may not be functioning properly or there could be an emergency. There is a serious lack of standardization with the abundance of technology, and there is virtually no way that health care professionals can differentiate among the beeps, which leads to the main source of the problem.
Dr. Ana McKee, the Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of The Joint Commission, said in a statement, “Alarm fatigue and management of alarms are important safety issues that we must confront. The recommendations in this Alert offer hospitals a framework on which to assess their individual circumstances and develop a systematic, coordinated approach to alarms. By making alarm safety a priority, lives can be saved."
The Commission is currently exploring other options to address this problem, including the possible development of a National Patient Safety Goal.