Researchers of a new study published in the PLoS One journal identified that within a single month roughly 2.5 million alarms went off in just one hospital in the United States. These alarms are used as monitoring devices for patients in intensive care and while critical and even life-saving, when staff hears constant beeps of these alarms, they become desensitized in what is referred to as “alarm fatigue”.
The Joint Commission, which accredits US hospitals, has identified alarm fatigue as being a very big problem because over time, medical staff either ignore the alarms or actually turn the monitoring devices off. As such, this has great potential for putting seriously ill patients at risk.
As stated by Barbara Drew, senior author of a study and professor in physiological nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, federal agencies send out warnings to hospitals about patients dying because of cardiac monitoring alarms and alerts being turned off by staff. However, as far as published data on alarm fatigue that informs medical professionals various ways to handle this problem, very little has been offered.
This new study is the first of its kind to shed light on the frequency, accuracy, causes, and strategies for solving this problem of cardiac monitoring alarms. As part of the study, data from 461 adult patients treated at five intensive care units at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center was analyzed over a 31-day period.
Researchers found that more than 2.5 million alarms sounded, which includes 1.1 million alarms specific to heart rhythm problems. Of these, 89% were false alarms caused by errors with computer algorithms.
Every day, both nurses and patients are bombarded with a substantial number of monitor alarms that with improved computer algorithms could be resolved. Drew added that the study’s results offer insight into the high occurrence of alarms, with most being false, as well as the different causes. Also included in the findings are suggestions for improving the monitoring devices.
Alarm fatigue is very real and with an exorbitant number of alarms going off each day, they become more like background noise to medical professionals. Over time, these alarms are perceived as a normal working environment within an intensive care unit. Dr. Drew hopes the information from this new study can be used to correct the problem, thereby ultimately saving lives.