Hospital Alarm Fatigue Puts Patients’ Lives at Risk

Incessant hospital alarms are desensitizing caregivers, and in some cases jeopardizing the health and costing the lives of patients, according to a recent report by the Joint Commission, the national organization that accredits hospitals.

Hospital attendants hear tens of thousands of alarm signals throughout the hospital every day. “It is estimated that between 85 and 99 percent of alarm signals do not require clinical intervention,” stated the report. Sometimes alarm signals are set too tight, the default is not adjusted correctly for a patient, the electrodes have dried out, or the sensors are miss-positioned.

All of this leads to constant beeping and ultimately “alarm fatigue.”

Clinicians thus become “immune to the sounds, and are overwhelmed by information.”

A 2011 U.S. Food and Drug Administration report identified 566 alarm-related deaths between January 2005 and June 2010.

Now the Joint Commission is urging hospital leaders to address the problem of “alarm fatigue” and train staffers in safe alarm management. In the meantime, the Commission is additionally exploring other options to address this problem, including the possible development of a National Patient Safety Goal.


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Hospital Alarm Fatigue Puts Patients' Lives at Risk