'Alarm fatigue' reduction efforts underway by FDA, Joint Commission

Desensitization to alarms on medical devices continues to be a problem for hospitals throughout the U.S., so much so that both the Food and Drug Administration and The Joint Commission are ramping up efforts to curb the safety issue, the Boston Globe reports.

The Joint Commission is taking the route of increasing training to employees who are responsible for reviewing such devices on alarm standards and safety, according to the Globe. The FDA, meanwhile, will survey roughly 4,500 hospitals and 1,000 long-term care facilities to get a better understanding of what needs to be done, the newspaper reports.

"It's helping people understand whether the alarm is important or not," TJC medical adviser for health quality evaluation Robert Wise told the Globe. "It's not just about alarms, but about everything a nurse has to pay attention to."

"Alarm fatigue" was listed as the top health IT hazard for 2012, according to nonprofit research organization the ECRI Institute. In the 2011 list, alarm fatigue ranked as the No. 2 health IT hazard.

Last fall, UMass Memorial Medical Center reported that alarm fatigue contributed to the death of a 60-year-old man in the hospital's intensive care unit in 2010; in that case, alarms went off for an hour before providers finally responded. It was the hospital's second alarm-fatigue related death in four years, and one of more than 200 nationwide between 2005 and 2010.

According to William Maisel, deputy director and chief scientist at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, issues with alarm fatigue often can lead to providers turning down the volume on what they perceive to be an unnecessarily noisy alarm. "FDA could do everything right, but if the healthcare community is not doing its job, that won't be enough," he told the Globe.

The FDA and The Joint Commission met last year to discuss similar issues, according to Hospitals & Health Networks. Ideas tossed around included a central surveillance room with employees dedicated to only watching monitors and then informing providers of the most critical cases, and an integration system to direct certain alarms to certain providers and staff members wearing linked devices.

To learn more:
- read the Boston Globe article
- check out this related Hospitals & Health Networks article from June

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