Hospitals' New Issue: A 'Glut' of Machines Making Alarm Sounds

Hospitals' New Issue:  A 'Glut' of Machines Making Alarm Sounds

“Tens of thousands of alarms shriek, beep and buzz every day in every U.S. hospital,” reports Fierce Healthcare — even though most of them aren’t urgent, disturb the patients, and won’t get immediate attention anyways:

The glut of noise means that the medical staff is less likely to respond. Alarms have ranked as one of the top 10 health technological hazards every year since 2007, according to the research firm ECRI Institute. That could mean staffs were too swamped with alarms to notice a patient in distress or that the alarms were misconfigured. The Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, warned the nation about the “frequent and persistent” problem of alarm safety in 2013. It now requires hospitals to create formal processes to tackle alarm system safety…

The commission has estimated that of the thousands of alarms going off throughout a hospital every day, an estimated 85% to 99% do not require clinical intervention. Staff, facing widespread “alarm fatigue” can miss critical alerts, leading to patient deaths. Patients may get anxious about fluctuations in heart rate or blood pressure that are perfectly normal, the commission said….

In the past 30 years, the number of medical devices that generate alarms has risen from about 10 to nearly 40, said Priyanka Shah, a senior project engineer at ECRI Institute. A breathing ventilator alone can emit 30 to 40 different noises, she said… Maria Cvach, an alarm expert and director of policy management and integration for Johns Hopkins Health System, found that on one step-down unit (a level below intensive care) in the hospital in 2006, an average of 350 alarms went off per patient per day — from the cardiac monitor alone…. By customizing alarm settings and converting some audible alerts to visual displays at nurses’ stations, Cvach’s team at Johns Hopkins reduced the average number of alarms from each patient’s cardiac monitor from 350 to about 40 per day, she said.

Hospitals are also installing sophisticated software to analyze and prioritize the constant stream of alerts before relaying the information to staff members.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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