A Boston Globe article is detailing steps that the FDA is taking to reduce “alarm fatigue” in hospitals and nursing homes. Alarm fatigue is what happens when medical personnel become so accustomed to the sounds of standard alarms that they no longer react with an adequate level of urgency. Alarm fatigue has been linked to hundreds of preventable deaths.
As an attorney who specializes in nursing home abuse and neglect, I’ve spent many, many hours in nursing homes speaking with families, staff, doctors and administrators. It’s no secret that many, many alarms sound every day. Each one of those alarms needs to be treated appropriately. Often, they are not and fit into that category of alarm fatigue.The issue of alarm fatigue was initially raised last year by the Boston Globe. Since then the Joint Commission has been investigating the patient alarm issue.As an advocate for the sick and elderly, naturally I feel that Improving communication in nursing homes and hospitals is an obvious and noble goal, but some of the quotes in the article are a bit confusing:“It’s helping people understand whether the alarm is important or not,’’ said Dr. Robert Wise, the commission’s medical adviser for health quality evaluation.Perhaps I’m the only person who feels that if an alarm isn’t important, then it isn’t an alarm. That’s kind of the key element to an alarm. I agree that the same alarm doesn’t apply to all people at all times, but clearly, the problem isn’t too many alarms. The problem is too many people receiving alarms that are not relevant to them.I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I don’t see why, with the prevalence of wireless networks, bluetooth earpieces tied to a centralized notification system couldn’t alert appropriate staff to alarms relevant to the specific staff. By using earpieces, hospital staff would keep their hands free.Or we can keep the current system, and hospitals can continue to broadcast all alarms at all times over a single loudspeaker system.