In The American Nurse, Susan Trossman reported on the dangerous phenomenon in hospitals known as “alarm fatigue.” The thousands of alarms going off in hospitals daily—85-99% of which do not require clinical intervention—are not only hindrances to patients getting the rest they need, but also mean that nurses and other health care professionals are less attuned to the important signals that do necessitate medical care. In some cases, the frequency of alarms is leading to the signals being turned down or off, even by the patients themselves.
Not only is the frequency of alarms problematic, but the signals themselves are not good communicators of the situation at hand. Sue Sendelbach explains, “Science has shown that it’s difficult for a person to learn more than six different alarm sounds.” However, while an average ICU in 1983 had six different alarm sounds, in 2011 the number was over 40 and continues to increase as new technologies are developed. In addition, there is no coordination between the makers of these devices in indicating signals of varying priorities.
The scope of the problem is so wide that one of The Joint Commission’s 2014 National Patient Safety Goals concerns alarm management and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses developed an AACN Practice Alert™ on the issue. These documents offer ways that nurses and hospitals can improve the problem, including ongoing education on devices with signals and the establishment of teams to address alarm management.
Read Susan Trossman’s article about alarm fatigue at The American Nurse.