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Medical Malpractice Blog Post

Danger in the Hospital: Alarm Fatigue

Most people are familiar with noise-emitting monitors in healthcare settings. From thermometers to heart monitors, reassuring beeps and chirps give audible evidence that a machine is working or a monitor is in place. But when do those beeps become counterproductive?

According to the nonprofit group The Joint Commission, medical devices in some hospital settings are being misused or ignored. Citing data gathered between 2009 and 2012, the group notes that the monitors that support even one patient can beep hundreds of times a day.

In a Sentinel Event Alert, The Joint Commission noted the tendency of healthcare providers to ignore or become desensitized to chirps that indicate a patient is stable or in serious danger.

Defining the condition as alarm fatigue, the group reported the following points:

  • During the study period, 98 alarm-reported events resulted in 80 deaths, while 13 patients were permanently injured and five others required additional care or an extended hospital stay.
  • It is widely believed that incidents relating to alarm fatigue are underreported.
  • Problems with alarms include monitors being turned off or set incorrectly and monitors being inaudible or nonfunctioning.

The report detailed a case involving a 60-year-old man admitted to the hospital after being struck by a tree branch. The blood oxygen levels of the patient decreased as his heart rate increased — significant changes that caused monitor alarms to sound. Despite the alarms, staff did not respond for an hour, after the patient had stopped breathing and suffered irreversible brain damage. He was later removed from life support and died.

In addressing this problem, effective training and protocols may take years to implement. Meanwhile, patients continue to suffer undue injuries or even die, despite alarms that signal distress or emergency. Physicians and other medical care providers who fail to respond properly to alarms — for whatever reason — could be found negligent and liable.

If you or your loved one was a victim of malpractice in a healthcare setting, consult a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to discuss your rights.

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2550 Fifth Avenue, 11th Floor
San Diego, California, 92103-6612 USA