Hospital Alarm Fatigue Puts Patients' Lives at Risk


Incessant hospital alarms are desensitizing caregivers, and in some cases jeopardizing the health and costing the lives of patients, according to a recent report by the Joint Commission, the national organization that accredits hospitals.

Hospital attendants hear tens of thousands of alarm signals throughout the hospital every day. “It is estimated that between 85 and 99 percent of alarm signals do not require clinical intervention,” stated the report. Sometimes alarm signals are set too tight, the default is not adjusted correctly for a patient, the electrodes have dried out, or the sensors are miss-positioned.

All of this leads to constant beeping and ultimately “alarm fatigue.”

Clinicians thus become “immune to the sounds, and are overwhelmed by information.”

A 2011 U.S. Food and Drug Administration report identified 566 alarm-related deaths between January 2005 and June 2010.

Now the Joint Commission is urging hospital leaders to address the problem of “alarm fatigue” and train staffers in safe alarm management. In the meantime, the Commission is additionally exploring other options to address this problem, including the possible development of a National Patient Safety Goal.

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Jim McDade's picture
Jim McDade
Submitted by Jim McDade on
Working 12 to 14 hour shifts is the root of all fatigue and human performance issues in today's hospitals. Hospitals need to go back to 3, 8-hour shifts if we want to reduce things like "alarm fatigue" and mistakes in judgement while providing patient care.

Millenka's picture
Submitted by Millenka on
I work in a hospital setting where everything alarms, even drawers left opened. It is overwhelming and silencing and resetting these alarms takes time and attention away from the patients needs. I can attest to the fact that a person becomes immuned to these alarms as 99% of them do not signify a problem with the patient. The alarms are not ignored as they are annoying enough to warrant silencing them. But when most of them are false alarms the 1% of the time that its real may be the time when you don't respond in a timely manner.

Monroe Truss's picture
Monroe Truss
Submitted by Monroe Truss on
This is something many Industrial Electrical Techs working in Automation and Controls have known for years. It is imperative to eliminate nuisance alarms because the operator becomes desensitized. They lose any sense of urgency and when the alarm is real they may ignore it and not attend to it immediately which can result in a shutdown, and can result in a catastrophic failure. Assuring alarms can be trusted improves an operators responce. An operator must remain attentive to details and there are also methods to improve their focus. Maybe hospitals could learn a lesson from Those working in Automation and Controls.