Silence…This Is A Hospital!

by Brooks Evan Doyne

Patient safety and monitoring is always at the forefront of concern to hospitals. However, the idea of too many alarms going off and posing a danger to safety is a relatively new concept that hospitals should now consider. A recent Boston Globe investigation uncovered evidence that more than 200 deaths nationwide over the past five years have been associated with patient alarms. In many cases, it is believed that “alarm fatigue” is to blame.

“Alarm fatigue” refers to the response – or lack of it – of nurses to more than a dozen types of alarms that can sound hundreds of times a day – many of which are false alarms. This in turn can result in catastrophic instances where a nurse becomes desensitized to calls of distress and fails to react with the urgency necessary. Although exact data is difficult to ascertain at the moment since disclosure of such incidents are voluntary, hospitals are constantly using more and more devices that are hooked up to patients and sound an alarm when a situation arises.

Hospitals are now beginning to improve their monitoring as the Joint Commission has identified this as a 2014 national patient safety goal but unfortunate events will likely continue until the manufactures also improve the technology on their end by reducing the significant number of false alarms.

Walk into any hospital in this country and you will hear a constant stream of beeps which sound similar to Morse code. However, these beeps contain important information interpreted by the skilled doctors and nurses. It is important that the technology does not begin to do more harm than good by overwhelming the providers.