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Hospital alarms prove a noisy misery for patients

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When Kea Turner’s 74-year-old grandmother checked into Virginia’s Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital in the US, with advanced lung cancer, she landed in the oncology unit where every patient was monitored by a bed alarm.

“Even if she would slightly roll over, it would go off,” Turner said. Small movements — such as reaching for a tissue — would set off the alarm, as well. The beeping would go on for up to 10 minutes, Turner said, until a nurse arrived to shut it off.

Tens of thousands of alarms shriek, beep and buzz every day in every US hospital. All sound urgent, but few require immediate attention or get it. Intended to keep patients safe by alerting nurses to potential problems, they also create a riot of disturbances for patients trying to heal and get some rest.

Alarms have ranked as one of the top 10 health technological hazards every year since 2007, according to the research firm ECRI Institute. That could mean staffs were too swamped with alarms to notice a patient in distress, or that the alarms were misconfigured. The Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, warned the nation about the “frequent and persistent” problem of alarm safety in 2013. It now requires hospitals to create formal processes to tackle alarm system safety, but there is no national data on whether progress has been made in reducing the prevalence of false and unnecessary alarms.

The commission has estimated that of the thousands of alarms going off throughout a hospital every day, an estimated 85-99% do not require clinical intervention. Staff, facing widespread “alarm fatigue,” can miss critical alerts, leading to patient deaths. Patients may get anxious about fluctuations in heart rate or blood pressure that are perfectly normal, the commission said.

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Source: The Washington Post, 24 November 2019

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