A recent study from a consultant from Johns Hopkins University shows that almost half of the alarms that go off in hospitals are not responded to in a timely manner. The study shows that approximately 93 percent of alarms that sound in hospitals are not necessarily medically urgent situations, and as a result, nursing staffs have become less responsive to them. The study goes on to show nurses hear as many as 100 alarms during a shift and may become desensitized to the noise.
The American Nurses Association has called this “hospital alarm fatigue,” and says it is a very big problem in hospitals across the U.S., where nurses collectively hear 8 million alarm errors per day. These alarms are supposed to notify nurses and doctors that patients need another dose of medication, their vitals are not stable, low battery levels, worrying blood pressure levels or even when the patient falls out of bed. However, out of the millions of alarms that sound each day, only a small fraction of those alarms mean that patients need urgent attention. This alarm fatigue causes approximately 300 episodes that result in permanent damage and 200 patient deaths each year.
Patient alarms help to notify nurses and doctors that a patient’s condition has worsened. However according to The Boston Globe, there are cases where nurses intentionally turn the alarms off to help reduce the alarm noise for that floor. In other instances, alarms have been manually turned off because the patient needed a procedure, but then nurses forgot to turn the alarms back on and the patient suffered serious injury or death.
While several hospitals are trying to rectify this situation by having nurses check alarm statuses each shift, muting low-level alarms and installing video devices in the rooms of critical patients to better keep an eye on their status, this is still a prominent issue and patients are suffering as a result. An ignored alarm can be just as dangerous as a botched surgery. That said, hospitals need to do more to help nurses respond to the patients who need them.