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Hospital Alarm Fatigue Puts Patients at Risk



From 2005 through 2010, more than 200 patients died nationwide due to what hospitals are calling "alarm fatigue." The problem is that it is not the patients or the alarms that are fatigued. It is the hospital staff. According to the Boston Globe, patients are dying in hospitals because medical personnel either do not hear or ignore alarms that are sounded by patient monitors. At one hospital, a monitor manufacturer determined that its cardiac monitor sounded 19 alarms over a two-hour period, and personnel at the nursing station silenced the alarms without checking on the patient, who died.

Monitors Tracking Body Signs Shouldn't Be Ignored

Monitors keep track of various body signs like heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels. Yet often they are ignored when they sound an alarm. Nurses contend that their staffs have become "desensitized" by all the alarms that sound in a hospital daily. One study at a Baltimore hospital revealed that in a 15-bed unit, on average 942 alarms per day are sounded by monitors: one critical alarm every 90 seconds. In several cases, nurses have ignored noncritical alarms, such as low-battery warnings, to the patient's detriment. But studies show the more important alarm warnings are being ignored as well.

Some studies reveal that more than 85 percent of the alarms are false. They can be caused by oversensitivity; for example, the alarm being set off when a patient rolls over. Nurses complain that after a while, some of the alarms just become background noise. Yet the results of an unanswered alarm can be devastating. An 87-year-old was equipped with a heart telemetry unit with a fading battery. Because of this, the patient's EKG was "flatlined" for over two hours, yet no one checked it. During this period, the patient's heart shut down, yet no one knew because the telemetry unit was no longer working.

Investigators also found other reasons that the alarms were not responded to. Sometimes the alarm volume was turned down by hospital staff to protect themselves and patients from excess noise. Other cases involved the alarms being either accidentally or intentionally silenced by staff without providing the required care as well as improperly programmed or turned-on monitors.

If you or a loved one has experienced a situation where a monitor was ignored, you should contact a personal injury attorney.  They can help you to get the justice that you deserve.