False Alarms at Hospitals can Jeopardize Patient Safety

Posted on September 21, 2015 by Shapiro Law Group

Several weeks ago, we discussed how work fatigue could contribute to medical mistakes and endanger patient safety. However, other types of fatigue exist within hospitals. Research from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recently studied the effects “alarm fatigue” can have on health care workers and patient safety. Hospital alarms alert health care workers to patient emergencies.

However, researchers have found 99 percent of hospital alarms are non-actionable, meaning they are not for real emergencies. In many cases, alarms are tripped when sensors malfunction (if a sticker holding a motion sensor in place comes loose, for example).

Constant false alarms can have a “boy who cried wolf” effect on health care workers. Researchers and hospitals refer to this phenomena as “alarm fatigue”. Alarm fatigue can make it less likely that nurses will check on patients who are facing emergencies. Researchers claim some health care workers deal with more than 100 false alarms during a single shift. Some nurses who participated in the study claim they hear alarms in their dreams.

How Can False Alarms Jeopardize Patient Safety?

Unfortunately, the constant interruptions from alarms can increase the chances of medical mistakes occurring. Nurses are the first to check on alarms going off, and if they are interrupted during the process of treating patients, it can lead to medical mistakes. If nurses decide to ignore the alarms, that also increases the chances of medical mistakes.

During the study, the researchers used video cameras to record patient care rooms. Researchers claimed the hours of video footage prove alarm fatigue has a negative impact on patients. For vulnerable patients such as children and preemies, it is possible alarm fatigue could cause severe injuries and fatalities.

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Tags: HospitalSafety


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