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Alarming News for Healthcare Consumers

For patients who are hospitalized, machine alarms are more than just important tools used for patient monitoring. In fact, they can be lifesavers — but only when medical care providers respond promptly to signs of distress. A recent Sentinel Event Alert from the Joint Commission reveals the consequences of medical alarms that are ignored.

In April 2013, the Joint Commission named a new danger for the American healthcare consumer — alarm fatigue. Characterized by the commission as a condition experienced by healthcare providers in hospitals and other intensive care facilities, alarm fatigue is causing injury and taking lives.

Nurses, doctors and other professionals who work in healthcare settings are subjected to hundreds of monitor sounds per day, per patient. In time, healthcare professionals become inured to the sounds, sometimes turning down monitors and sometimes ignoring them altogether. That practice has led to deadly results, as reported by the Joint Commission:

  • Between 2009 and 2012, the commission received reports of 98 alarm-associated events.
  • Of those events, 80 resulted in the death of a patient, 13 resulted in permanent injury and five required an extended hospital stay or additional care.
  • Alarm-related accidents are likely underreported in all healthcare settings.

In some cases, patients did not die from the cause of their hospitalization, but instead from the failure of alarms and alerts intended to notify caregivers of changes in their conditions. Factors that led to these injuries and fatalities include:

  • Alarms that were turned off
  • Mechanisms that were not set properly
  • Devices that were set to sound outside of safety parameters
  • Alert mechanisms that were absent or inappropriate for the setting
  • Monitors that were too far away to function

To address this widespread and serious issue, the Joint Commission proposes improved leadership and education initiatives that are meant to establish, educate and maintain appropriate alarm protocols in healthcare settings.

If you or a loved one is injured as a result of healthcare negligence, speak with an attorney experienced with medical malpractice in Indiana.