News & Events

"Alarm Fatigue" Series in Boston Globe

02.16.2011

The Boston Globe is running an interesting two-part series on “Alarm fatigue” focusing primarily on the nursing role. Links are below.

The word “fatigue” itself suggests human fallibility or nurses’ inability to perform up to the standards required by machines. Perhaps “alarm cacophony” would be a more apt description of what goes on in acute care settings that frequently look and sound like Times Square at rush hour.

Hospitals have been sold alarm--and other- technology to the tune of millions of dollars, as a way to cut labor (nursing) costs, regardless of the outcomes or consequences. I think most patients would prefer the risk of human error to the uncertainty of electronic indifference to their wellbeing.

One of the possible solutions suggested below has to do with improving poor nurse/patient staffing ratios.

Feb 13 2011:

http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/articles/2011/02/13/patient_alarms_often_unheard_unheeded/ The incessant din of beeping monitors can numb or distract hospital staff; the consequences can be deadly…..

Feb 14 2011:

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/02/14/no_easy_solutions_for_alarm_fatigue/ Solutions being explored range from relatively simple fixes to sophisticated technology... They include:

  • Improving monitor technology, to sharply decrease the number of false alarms, which some studies have shown exceed 85 percent. New machines would simultaneously sense multiple measures of a patient’s health to more accurately gauge whether a patient is really in crisis.
  • Hiring more nurses, and assigning some to do nothing but watch monitors for alarms. Nurses say hospitals need to be staffed more robustly to ensure alarms are heard and nurses have time to respond to each one. “There are fewer RNs,’’ said Colleen Wolfe, a nurse who has worked on various units at UMass Memorial, speaking about hospitals generally. “We don’t have the staff to get there and physically get eyes on patients the way we know we need to. No technology can take the place of the nurse’s eyes.’’
  • Strengthening voluntary industry standards or federal rules for monitor design and use, such as requirements for how loud alarms should be, or how long monitors should delay sounding an alarm to ensure an apparent problem is real and reduce false alarms.

.....Klugman decided to conduct a study of patients on cardiac monitors at UMass Memorial and three other Massachusetts hospitals over the course of one week in 2008. He found that at UMass alone, 40 percent of patients, or 73, didn’t need to be on monitors at all, based on American College of Cardiology criteria.

Further Reading/Viewing: