Joint Commission proposes alarm management as national safety goal

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The Joint Commission is proposing a new 2014 national patient safety goal--alarm management. If approved, the NPSG would require hospital and critical access hospital leaders to set alarm management as a priority, establish a formal policy and provide training for staff.

"Alarms are intended to alert caregivers of potential patient problems, but if they are not properly managed, they can compromise patient safety," the accrediting body said.

The ECRI Institute called alarm fatigue one of the biggest technology hazards in 2013. Alarm fatigue has been linked to patient deaths in the past few years, including deaths at UMass Memorial Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital. One of the reasons for alarm fatigue is simply that there are too many alarms, while another reason is that default settings are not actionable, The Joint Commission noted.

Among the proposed safety goal, hospitals would have to prepare annual inventory of alarms and identify the default settings. Based on that information, they would identify which alarms are the most important to manage.

In addition, leaders would establish policies and procedures regarding which specific alarms unnecessarily contribute to safety concerns and when alarms can be disabled, as well as checking individual alarms for accuracy and proper operation, among other monitoring rules.

There are currently no universal solutions. The Joint Commission said the NPSG will reflect best practices as they are developed.

Hospitals have until Feb. 26 to comment on the proposed rule.

For more information:
- see the TJC announcement and proposed rule (.pdf)
- here's the ECRI report (registration required)

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