Joint Commission Alert Warns about Alarm Fatigue

ekg%20alarm.jpgThe Indiana medical malpractice lawyers at our firm have earlier blogged about alarm fatigue and the risk of medical errors from this phenomenon. The Joint Commission recently issued an alert, warning hospitals to focus seriously on the very real risks of medical errors caused by alarm fatigue.

According to the Joint Commission, devices that come with alarms are used widely in US hospitals for a variety of purposes, and are indispensable in delivering safe care to patients. Doctors depend heavily on these devices to get the kind of information that they need to deliver the right kind of care to patients.

However, according to the Joint Commission alert, these devices also present a number of challenges for hospitals and healthcare workers, because they emit similar sounds. When the default settings are not changed, the alarm sounds will be very similar, and due to the multitude of such sounds emitting from every device in the hospital, medical personnel may neglect to respond to these alarms.

These alarms can sound several hundred times every day in an intensive care unit and in any hospital, you’re likely to hear tens of thousands of such alarms going off every day. These alarms are connected to everything from cardiac monitors and ventilators to any number of other medical devices.

However, in the vast majority of these cases, these alarms do not require clinical intervention. In other words, these devices may issue an alert or a beep, even when there are minor and insignificant changes in the patient’s condition, which do not require any intervention by doctors or nurses.

The reason why alarm fatigue is so widespread is that many hospitals simply do not use these alarms effectively and efficiently. Alarm settings are not being set to stringent settings, in which the alarm will only sound in those cases where intervention is required. Also in many cases, default settings are not being adjusted to suit the individual patient or the general patient population.

In many cases, nurses and staff are not adequately trained in the proper use and function of the equipment, or there aren’t enough staff members to respond to alarms when they sound.

As a result, clinicians and nurses become used to the sound of the alarms. Unfortunately, this increases the danger because it means that they will not be alerted or respond when alarms require genuine intervention.

The Joint Commission is currently investigating other options of addressing this very real medical technology problem. The Joint Commission is specifically looking at the development of a National Patient Safety Goal. In the meantime, hospitals are encouraged to establish safe alarm management practices, make an inventory of all medical devices with alarms, identify default alarm settings, and set the limits for each.

The Indiana medical malpractice lawyers at Montross Miller Muller Mendelson Kennedy LLP represent persons injured by the medical negligence of nurses, doctors and other medical personnel across Indiana.