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Alarm fatigue contributing to deaths in hospitals

Hospitals use a wide array of alarm systems to help alert healthcare workers to potential problems with patients. These can include heart rate monitors, ventilators, and blood oxygen monitors. Unfortunately, these systems come with an exaggerated sensitivity, and often activate when patients are not in distress. This has created a disturbing trend in hospital care that experts in the industry call alarm fatigue.

According to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, a single hospital can regularly expect to hear more than 350 alarms sound for each patient they attend each day. In at least 85 percent of these situations, the alarms are due to non-emergent situations, and nurses have been affected by this fact. Nurses and other hospital staff may begin to tune out or ignore these alarms after they become desensitized to their constant exposure. In some cases, nurses have even been known to turn the volume of these alarms down, adjust the machines’ settings so they are no longer within proper safety limits, or turn them off completely.

This has contributed to fatal and near-fatal incidents, including at least 23 events involving improperly set or ignored alarms, according to the Joint Commission. In response, the JC, which is responsible for hospital accreditation and certification in the U.S., has made it a National Patient Safety Goal to decrease alarm fatigue and improve response systems at hospitals around the nation. The program has been in place since January 2014, and dictates that hospitals must meet certain goals in order to maintain their accreditation. 

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