The proliferation of alarms generated by monitoring systems is a growing concern for anyone committed to patient safety. Exposure to excess alarms in care settings, especially non-actionable alarms, can result in desensitisation among the clinicians that they are intended to alert, a syndrome called alarm fatigue.
Alarm fatigue can lead to reflexive silencing of alarms, breaking monitoring protocols and missing true positive alarms—placing a burden on caregivers and jeopardising their ability to care for patients.
When an alarm goes off you want to make sure it is clinically relevant.”
Ineke van de Pol
ICU nurse practitioner, St. Antonius Hospital, The Netherlands
An insider’s view of alarm overload
For short-staffed nurses, false alarms are more than annoyances. Most nurses say they are affected by alarm fatigue, 1 which can cause stress, depression, reduced productivity and burnout. This video attempts to illustrate what it’s like to care for a patient in today’s alarm-filled environment.
Watch and listen
Turn on your sound to get the full experience
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Taking alarm management from concept to reality
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Patient harm as a result of over-alarming can have costly repercussions from transfers to the ICU, extended length of stay and litigation.
The lack of alarm customisation for individual patients can create excessive nuisance alarms.
About 10% of nursing time is lost responding to non-actionable alarms.
A stressful, noise-filled work environment can contribute to staff burnout.
Non-compliance can be costly, as health care moves from volume to value-based care models.
5 key facts about alarm fatigue
When you consider that patients, staff and families may be exposed to up to 700 alarms a day, 2 it’s no surprise that alarm fatigue is a serious problem. Yet few hospitals have comprehensive programs to manage “alarm pollution” and there is no clear evidence-based practice because no two patients or units are exactly the same. Understanding the scope of the problem is an important first step. Start by educating yourself and your colleagues with these facts from recent research.
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 Cvach, M., "Monitor Alarm Fatigue: An Integrative Review", Biomedical Instrumentation & Technology, July/August 2012, pp. 268-277.
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