Hospitals take action to address alarm fatigue

Hospitals have been developing new safety procedures to address "alarm fatigue" in time for the Joint Commission's January 2016 deadline to do so, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.

The problem--staff becoming desensitized to the bevy of alarms from patient-monitoring devices--regularly tops the ECRI Institute's list of patient safety hazards.

The Joint Commission made dealing with alarm fatigue a national patient safety goal in June 2013 and directed hospitals to create safety policies and education for staff around the issue.

"Culture is probably the hardest part of alarm management because staffers are used to doing things their own way," Rikin Shah, a senior consultant at the ECRI Institute, tells WSJ.

The article highlights research from the University of California San Francisco, which logged 2.5 million alarms in five UCSF adult intensive care units in 31 days. It found 88.8 percent of them were false alarms.

Among UCSF's solutions was adding a 20-second delay to an alarm from finger-clip monitors used to measure oxygen saturation, meaning the change had to persist for 20 seconds before it set off an alarm.

Boston Medical Center made only "crisis level" alerts audible--the rest visual messages--cutting audible alarms in a cardiac unit by 89 percent with no adverse events.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, meanwhile, created a team-based approach that significantly reduced non-essential alarms.

The ECRI Institute offers a guidebook to help hospitals identify ways to minimize alarm fatigue, develop an action plan and put that plan into practice.

To learn more:
- read the article