It’s Time To Address ‘Alarm Fatigue’ At Our Hospitals


Posted on 19th March 2011 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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So-called “alarm fatigue,” the phenomenon where nurse are so inundated with various alarms that they tune them out, has allegedly led to brain damage and death for some hospital patients. It is a growing, and frightening, trend.

The ECRI Institute, a nonprofit health care research group, teamed up with The Boston Globe for an investigation into alarm fatigue. The story, “Patient Alarms Often Unheard, Unheeded,” was published in February by The Globe, and it did an analysis based on Food and Drug Administration data. It attributed 200 hospital-patient deaths to problems with alarms that monitor the heart and breathing.

Simply put, the problem is that there are so many alarms that nurses are supposed to be paying attention to in hospitals that they become desensitized to them, tuning them out.

Therefore, patients who have flatlined or are suffering some other fatal malady are left to die, even as their monitors beep and signal the nurses’ station. 

In one case the family of Richard Chamoun is suing. He sustained serious brain damage, and died a month later, while he was in the hospital recovering from a quadruple heart bypass. He had been taken off a cardiac monitor for a half hour while nurses bathed him, and they did not realize he was in ventricular fibrillation, according to the American Association for Justice.

The ECRI Institute put out its own press release in March about “alarm issues,” citing The Globe story, that have “resulted in patient harm and death.” The release called alarm fatigue “a pervasive problem at most hospitals,” and the institute is apparently suggesting some ways to solve the problem.

Let’s not wait too long to address this issue.


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