Alarm fatigue kills

Health care providers can become desensitized to near-constant alarms

The Joint Commission issued a Sentinel Event Alert on April 8 warning of “alarm fatigue,” a condition in which health-care providers become desensitized to the numerous audio and visual alerts issuing from hospital medical devices.

The alert noted that alarm-equipped devices are “essential to providing safe care to patients in many health-care settings,” but they can sound several hundred times a day in a hospital unit, and most alarms do not require immediate clinical intervention, according to The Boston Globe.

Several recommendations were made for care providers, including identifying which alarms are unnecessary, establishing guidelines for tailoring alarm settings for individual patients, and deciding how to best set alarms on devices used in high-risk areas and for high-risk conditions.

Between January 2009 and June 2012, the Joint Commission received reports of 80 patient deaths and 13 serious injuries related to alarm fatigue.