For hospitals, alarm fatigue battle wages on

hospital heart alarm screen

Hospitals continue to seek ways to address alarm fatigue--staff becoming desensitized to the overload of alarms from electronic health records and patient-monitoring devices--that can put patient lives in danger, according to a Washington Post article.

For instance, a 2012 incident at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) was a wake-up call for staffers, the Post reports. A new EHR system increased the number of alerts doctors received, but most were ignored. As a result, doctors ignored relevant information about how a patient might respond to a drug, which led to a potentially lethal injection being administered.

Though the staff ultimately prevented disaster, the incident prompted the organization to focus pharmacists and clinicians on determining which alarms could safely be turned off. Eric Shelov, associate chief medical information officer at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, compared the effort to "trying to turn off the fire hose."


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Still, organizations including Cleveland-based MetroHealth, the University of Vermont Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have undertaken similar initiatives.

Year after year, the problem makes the ECRI Institute’s list of patient safety hazards. What's more, the Joint Commission made dealing with alarm fatigue a national patient safety goal in 2013.

However, these initiatives take time, expertise and money, which many organizations can’t afford.

Researchers have begun studying human-computer interaction to explore the risks vs. benefits of the multiple alarms, the article notes. And vendors have joined in addressing the problem, as well.

To learn more:
- read the Washington Post article

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